Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin
Alex Ovechkin Credit: Sammi Silber

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No matter how much time goes by, Alex Ovechkin seems to remain in classic form. Still sporting his signature yellow laces and missing-tooth smile, the Washington Capitals captain is continuing to defy expectations and, in a way, time itself.

Ovechkin, who proclaimed at the start of the season that he was “still young,” is playing in his 17th NHL season. Though he’s no stranger to NHL history, he’s off to the best start of his career at age 36.

Expectations were already high for the Great 8 after he signed a five-year extension in the summer. He was two goals away from passing Marcel Dionne for fifth on the NHL career goals list and needs to average 33 per season over the next five seasons to catch Wayne Gretzky. Ovechkin wasted no time, striking twice in Washington’s season opener to hit No. 732. It took 11 more games for him to tie Brett Hull for fourth all-time. In that same game, on Nov. 8, Ovechkin also recorded his 600th career assist.

“I just take it day-by-day,” Ovechkin said after the game. “You know, it’s nice to be in that company. It’s pretty big numbers, so just move on. Obviously, it’s nice to be tied, but I still have a couple games left.”

Right now, Ovechkin sits 154 tallies away from passing the Great One, and when it comes to adjusted goals all-time, he ranks second (911), 14 behind Gordie Howe. Though Ovechkin stays modest when it comes to his milestones and accomplishments, it’s something his teammates try not to take for granted.

“It’s unbelievable. I think he just gets hungrier and hungrier, honestly. This year he just seems hungrier on the net, he’s shooting the puck a ton, he’s getting good looks and making the most of them,” Tom Wilson said late last month. “When he’s playing like that, you just want to get it over to him and he’s finding the back of the net. He’s the guy that drives the ship for us every single night, and that’s no easy feat in the NHL. We’ll keep rallying with him.”

“He continues to do amazing things, and I’m just fortunate enough to be along for the ride,” rookie Connor McMichael, who dressed as Ovechkin for Halloween when he was 8 years old, recently said. “I do catch myself watching him take one-timers in practice, and it’s just really cool to see and be around him every day. So you kind of try and take things from his game, but it’s kind of hard to for sure.”

Ovechkin’s production is vital right now for the Caps, who are severely shorthanded. The team is missing Nicklas Bäckström, T.J. Oshie, and Anthony Mantha, who are all out with significant injuries. The captain has taken matters into his own hands and is stepping up along with Washington’s depth players and rookies to help fill the void.

“You mention the guys out of the lineup, and when a guy like that steps up and starts scoring at what seems like double the rate to keep us in games and to win us games is awesome,” Capitals forward Conor Sheary said earlier this week. “It’s great. He leads on and off the ice, and when you see a guy like that doing the little things like backchecking and blocking shots and playing hard in the D-zone, you know, you want to do that, too. Credit to him.”

Ovechkin is finding new ways to score, too. His signature shot from “the office” in the left circle is still lethal, but he has yet to convert from there this season. Instead, he’s utilizing nifty moves, quick snapshots, rebounds, and tip-ins. He’s one goal away from passing Hull and then will work toward passing Jaromir Jagr’s 766 career goals.

Right now, Ovechkin leads the league in shots (60), ranks second in the NHL in goals (11), and third in points (22), trailing only superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who are 24 and 26, respectively. Ovechkin was the first player to reach double-digit goals this season.

“I don’t think it’s a surprise,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson said last month. “He’s only done it for 17 other years, too.”

Beyond scoring, Ovechkin is helping out in his own end. He’s working hard on the backcheck, blocking shots, and making strong defensive plays. He’s become more defensively aware and has improved his skating.

Ovechkin is currently on pace for 69 goals this season which would easily account for two of those 33-goal seasons that he needs while hunting down Gretzky’s record. Ultimately, though, the nine-time “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner isn’t thinking too much about the records. Instead, he’s focused on just playing the game and having fun.

“I just try to do my job … I just enjoy my time,” he said after reaching fifth on the all-time goals list in mid-October. “Of course, it’s huge privilege being on that list, but as I say all the time, game by game, day by day.”