Ovechkin's Simply Spectacular 47-in-50

The Captain. - Clyde Caplan/clydeorama.com

Even though the Great Eight fell just shy of 50 goals in 50 games, 48 in 50 in today's game is just as special.

Coming into last Friday's game, Alex Ovechkin had a chance to do what no one else had done in quite some time: score 50 goals in 50 games. With 48 in his last 50 regular-season games dating back to the lockout-shortened season, he needed a hat trick against Florida—a team he has torched throughout his careerbut was held pointless in a shootout loss.

Fast-forward to Sunday. Ovechkin scored the game-tying goal in the final minute as the Caps beat Philadelphia in a shootout. That brought him up to 49 goals in his last 52 games including 47 goals in his last 50. Four goals in his next game will bring up the magical 50-in-50 mark.

"50 in 50" has a nice ring to it, but it is an arbitrary benchmark whose magnitude has changed over time. For reference, via the Washington Post, a player has scored at least 50 goals in his first 50 games of a season 13 times. Six of those occurred during the high-scoring 1980s—Wayne Gretzky did it three times, and Mike Bossy, Mario Lemieux, and Jarri Kurri each did it once—and another six came between 1990 and 1996. Before 1980, only Maurice "the Rocket" Richard had accomplished the feat, back in 1945.

The '50s, ‘60s, and 70s weren't necessarily lacking in talent; they just didn't have league scoring on their side (for various reasons). Via Hockey-Reference and highlighting in red the 50-in-50 seasons:

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The 16-year period in which all but one of these seasons came was higher scoring than the current Ovechkin-Crosby era. It may not seem like much of a difference, but it all adds up over the course of a season. That final 1995-96 season was the 50-in-50 season with the fewest average goals per game at 3.14, and it still featured 15 percent more goals than today's game, which clocks in at 2.72. That difference would take a 50-goal season today into a 58-goal season, and would have turned Lemieux's 50-in-50 that season into 43-in-50 today (assuming every player sees the same 15% scoring bump or decline), putting him on pace for 71 over 82 games.

Using a similar adjustment, where does Ovechkin's 47-in-50 stack up?

Player

GP to 50

Season

League scoring

2013 G/82

Maurice Richard

50

1944-45

3.68

61

Mike Bossy

50

1980-81

3.84

58

Wayne Gretzky

39

1981-82

4.01

71

Wayne Gretzky

42

1983-84

3.94

67

Wayne Gretzky

49

1984-85

3.89

59

Jarri Kurri

50

1984-85

3.89

57

Mario Lemieux

46

1988-89

3.74

65

Brett Hull

49

1990-91

3.46

66

Brett Hull

50

1991-92

3.48

64

Alexander Mogilny

46

1992-93

3.63

67

Mario Lemieux

48

1992-93

3.63

64

Cam Neely

44

1993-94

3.24

78

Mario Lemieux

50

1995-96

3.14

71

Alex Ovechkin

(47 in 50)

2012-13 and 13-14

2.73*

77

*Since Ovechkin's stretch came over parts of two seasons, I just took the average of the goals-per-game rate of each season. It was 2.74 in 2012-13 and was 2.72 so far this season prior to Sunday's games.

Even though it doesn't look like Ovechkin will hit 50-in-50—he needs four goals in his next game or six in his next two—his hot start to this season combined with his torrid finish to last season arguably exceeds the most celebrated 50-game regular season stretches ever, as far as goal-scoring is concerned. And, having turned 28 in September, he's done this past the usual offensive peak of 25. His raw goals-per-game rate this season ranks 5th in players' age-28 seasons—a height he hasn't reached since his first Hart Trophy season in 2007-08. Imagine what he could have accomplished if the team had made similar tactical adjustments back in 2007. Imagine what he could have done in the 1980s or early 1990s.

The work Oates has done with Ovechkin is nothing short of phenomenal. While the second-year head coach hasn't achieved the same success with the team as a whole, his captain is back on track to going down as one of the very, very best ever, thanks to this stretch of games: possibly the finest 50, goal scoring-wise, in league history.

Soak it in. It may be awhile before we see something like this again.

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