Alex Ovechkin and the Empty Net Goal

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Posted February 5, 2020

(Caps Outsider)

Alex Ovechkin scored a hat-trick the other night after firing home his sixth empty-net goal of the season. The six empty-netters is a career high in a season for Ovi, who previously hit the 5-EN mark – twice – a decade ago.

Ovi is currently in a race for the Rocket Richard trophy with Boston’s David Pastrnak, who has one empty net goal thus far, and of course Bruins fans are quick to point that out. If Ovi wins another scoring title by a goal or two, but scores five more empty netters than Pastrnak, who is the better goal scorer of the season? Also consider this: Ovi has more even-strength goals than Pastrnak (28-21), and surely it’s harder to score at even strength than on the power play. So, advantage, Ovi.

And if we compare goal totals now to other eras, it’s safe to say that Alex Ovechkin would already have about 1,000:

Considering empty-netters and power play goals are ‘easier’ to score than even strength and short-handed, perhaps there should be an award that considers goal difficulty. Maybe an empty-netter counts as a half, a power play counts as .75, even strength 1, and short-handed 1.25. Maybe even consider clutch factors, like overtime, late-game tying goals and winners, and even the strength of the opposing team and goalie. You get the idea.

After all of that, it’s very likely Ovi will still regularly come out on top, but it feels like a more fair way to measure since pot-shots at an empty net count the same as heroic game-winners.

The all-time leader in scoring empty-net goals is Wayne Gretzky, with 56, and the All-Time Empty Net Goal leaderboard isn’t exactly filled with stat-padding schlubs. But there’s a difference between Ovi and the other top 4 players – Gretzky, Marian Hossa, Mario Lemieux, and Jerome Iginla. The other players kill penalties. Why that matters is because Ovi plays in ‘must-kill’ situations only when there’s an empty net involved.

Coach Todd Reirden told The Post: “Right now he’s earned that opportunity to be out there because he’s making the right decisions defensively. You know, it is not something that you just put him out there because he will score goals. He went after this opportunity, and he’s deserved the chances he’s getting.”

So this is okay, so long as the Caps aren’t routinely giving up late game-tying goals due to Ovi turnovers (which has happened).

Ovi now has 39 empty-net goals, and will tie Hossa for second place with his next one. And though I’m rooting hard for him to pass Gretzky in all-time goals, it would be far more impressive if he manages to do that without taking the Empty Net crown from Gretzky.

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UPDATE: I got a few hate-messages about this article because, obviously, those Ovi empty-netters aren’t all gimmies. That’s true – all empty netters aren’t necessarily simple pot-shots that anyone can score. The point is, empty netters, relative to other scoring scenarios, are generally easier. Even Ovi has scored goals – on goaltenders – that were easier than some of his empty-netters. But it doesn’t necessarily take Alex Ovechkin to score a ‘difficult’ empty net goal. See this for example, where South Carolina Stingrays player and former Caps prospect Jaynen Rissling, who doesn’t score very much, nailed this one. If Ovi did this, some folks would act like only Ovi could do such a thing.

Alex Ovechkin’s All-Time NHL Goals Countdown

Washington Capitals Hat Trick Tracker