When Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin scored the 484th goal of his NHL career on Thursday night to set the record for goals scored by a Russian-born player in NHL history, it was one more milestone reached in a career path that certainly will take him to the Hockey Hall of Fame one day.
This milestone came after several close calls in the form of goals that were scored, but overturned on replay, and even in the game against the Dallas Stars, in which the record was set, he sent an apparent goal ringing off a pipe that caromed out instead of in.
What it meant was that Ovechkin experienced something a bit unusual in his approach to reaching milestones. He went four games without a goal after tying Sergei Fedorov's goal scoring record before he broke it. In approaching previous milestone goals, Ovechkin treated them as mere speed bumps in his chewing through opposing goaltenders. Consider the chart below that illustrates his goal scoring as he approached a milestone, the degree to which he experienced a slump in getting there, and his performance afterward:
In the ten games before he reached a milestone - his 100th, 200th, 300th, and 400th NHL goal - he suffered no apparent loss of consistency in production, nor did he spend much (if any) time stuck one goal short of reaching that milestone. That is, until this most recent approach. But we would not even have this caveat in the absence of the "coach's challenge" that is in place in the NHL this season for the first time.
Without a coach's challenge in place, Ovechkin would have spent one game without a goal before taking the Russian-born goal scoring record for his own in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers. What would have been the record-setting goal was overturned when Justin Williams was charged with interfering with the goaltender's ability to stop the puck.
What will be interesting now to watch is Ovechkin's performance going forward, especially as he approaches the next milestone -- his 500th career goal. Only 42 players in NHL history have reached that mark. Reaching a milestone cannot be viewed as a source of relief in the "now that's over with, let's get back to goal scoring" sort of way. His history of goal production when approaching a milestone negates the idea of "relief" being a factor upon reaching that milestone. His history, as reflected in that chart above, is to just keep going.
And with opponents on the upcoming schedule that might provide ample motivation - two games against a strong Tampa Bay Lightning team, a game in Toronto against the Maple Leafs, another in Montreal against the Canadiens, and a contest in Pittsburgh against the Penguins among those in the Capitals' next ten games - he certainly could add another chapter to his history of blowing through milestones and adding to his goal scoring in bunches as he closes in on "500."