In his last game of the 1944-45 regular season, Montreal's Maurice Richard beat Bruins netminder Harvey Bennett to become the first player in NHL history to score fifty goals in a season, and he did it in just fifty games (the length of the regular season back then).
It took 36 years before another player would equal The Rocket's fifty-in-fifty feat, when Mike Bossy did so in dramatic fashion, scoring twice in the final five minutes of the Isles' 50th game. Then along came Wayne Gretzky, who obliterated this mark by scoring his 50th goal of the 1981-82 season in just the 39th game of the campaign (on a five-goal night which followed a four-goal outing, to boot).
The Great One bested fifty-in-fifty twice more, Mario Lemieux did it, Brett Hull accomplished the feat twice, and a small handful of "unofficial" fifty-in-fifty seasons and near misses have been recorded, but no one has scored fifty goals in his team's first fifty games since the Golden Brett did it in 1991-92.
All of this leads us to the question that's already being asked just days into the new season: "Can Alex Ovechkin score fifty goals in fifty games?"
"If anyone can do it, Ovie can," offered up Brooks Laich.
The Great Eight is certainly off to a good start with three goals in two games. But the best fifty-game stretches of Ovechkin's career so far have seen him score 43 goals, a number he's hit an impressive nine times (with some overlaps) in his young career, most recently ending March 1 of this year. (Currently, he has 39 goals in his last fifty games, whether or not you include last season's playoffs.) So he'll need to increase his production over the best 50-game goal-scoring spans of his career by more than 16%.
Taking a look at the schedule ahead over the next 48 games (during which he'll have to score at a .98 goals-per-game clip to reach the milestone in question), Ovechkin has scored .68 goals per game over his career and .74 goals per game last season against the teams he'll face (teams he'll face multiple times are counted multiple times to accurately represent his past performance applied to the schedule). So he'll need to increase his production against the teams he'll face by at least a third over what he's done against them in the past.
Laich added in his "sure, why not?" reply that Ovechkin "puts six or seven shots on goal a game and you know one will go in." Well, not quite. In fact, based on AO's 10.6% shooting accuracy last season, he'd have to take 443 shots to score another 47 goals, which works out to roughly 9.24 per game. Use his career 12.3% number and that drops down to just a hair under eight shots per game (7.96). So he'll either need to score on a much higher percentage of his shots than he ever has before, or he'll have to take a lot more shots than he ever has before (if that's possible).
What makes the fifty-in-fifty task so daunting in this day and age, however, has more to do with the state of the game today than it does with any one player's skill. Case in point, AO had a higher "adjusted goal" total (goals normalized for the era in which they were scored) when he scored 65 goals in 2007-08 than Gretzky or Lemieux ever had in a single campaign, even though those Hall of Famers each had individual seasons of 85-goals or more.
Now, we know better than to bet against Alex Ovechkin. But the bottom line is that if he's going to score fifty goals in fifty games, he's going to need to produce at a significantly higher rate than he ever has before; someone tell Alex to stop slackin' and start scorin'.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, that fiftieth game? January 21... in Pittsburgh, of course.