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Ovechkin’s goal-scoring record chase slows to a concerning crawl

Alexander Ovechkin Washington Capitals Alexander Ovechkin - The Canadian Press

Alexander Ovechkin is no longer defying the aging curve, which forces us to rethink the 38-year-old Russian sniper’s chase of the NHL’s all-time goal-scoring record, currently held by the venerable Wayne Gretzky.

For many years in this space, we wondered when Father Time would show up at Ovechkin’s doorstep. The vast majority of hockey players see their game decay and production decline by the time they enter their 30s – aging curves for the NHL are robust, and only generational talents seem capable of defying them.

To that end, consider the league’s current leading scorers who are 34 or older: Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (26 goals), Boston’s Brad Marchand (19 goals), and Dallas’ Joe Pavelski (18 goals). That’s a Hall of Famer, a Hall of Famer, and another Hall of Famer.

For many years, this was also true of Ovechkin. If you look at his individual goal scoring across the statistical modern era (2007-present), it’s been as reliable and predictable as the sun rising and setting. But then the 2023-24 season came around, and everything appeared to fall right off the proverbial cliff:

The slippage this year compared to extraordinarily steady goal-scoring rates across the prior 16 seasons has been breathtaking. For most players, this is the sort of age decay we would expect, but for perhaps the best goal scorer in the history of the sport, it’s stunning. And as it pertains to Ovechkin’s chase for true greatness, he remains 64 goals behind Gretzky for the all-time lead – a gap that Ovechkin could have once covered in a single regular season, but a gap that now may require him to play for longer than anticipated.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of Ovechkin’s scoring drought this season isn’t just how decisively down it is from years past, but how poorly it compares to attackers around the league. This is particularly true at even strength, which does demand more playmaking and production in tighter areas versus the comforts of the power play:

It goes without saying this isn’t the type of company you want to keep as perhaps the greatest goal scorer ever – it’s full of depth forwards and young skaters who have struggled to transition as scorers early in their career.

Whenever we see performance slippage like this, I always consider components like deployment (which are largely unchanged for Ovechkin) and the types of players he’s skating with.

Though there are some familiar faces still playing with Ovechkin, I do wonder if diminished talent around him is having an effect. This season, Ovechkin’s most common forward teammates include

Tom Wilson and Dylan Strome. Or said another way: not Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, two playmakers who were glued to Ovechkin lines in years past.

Even year over year, the change in Ovechkin’s offensive profile has been notable. Consider the shot profiles of Ovechkin from 2022-23 versus this year: a lot more offensive volume, and a lot more scoring opportunities from between the circles.

Here’s 2022-23, via HockeyViz:

And here’s 2023-24, which is a lot quieter:

I’ve learned many times over that betting against Ovechkin is a fool’s errand – his scoring has been arguably the single most reliable element of the NHL from this millennium.

But in this illustrious chase of Gretzky, things have become awfully difficult in a hurry for Ovechkin, and we will have to see if there’s any gas left in the tank to close this 64-goal gap over the back-half of the season.

Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Viz, Hockey Reference