- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2006

Alex Ovechkin, the 20-year-old wunderkind, carved himself a place in NHL history last night against the Thrashers at Philips Arena in Atlanta.

Ovechkin, the best rookie in Washington Capitals history, scored a goal 13 minutes into the first period to become just the second player in league history with 50 goals and more than 100 points in his initial season.

In the end, however, the Caps couldn’t match Atlanta’s vast firepower and dropped a 5-3 decision. The win moves the Thrashers, in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, within two points of eighth-place Tampa Bay for a playoff berth with each team having three games left.

The only player whose rookie stats are out of reach for Ovechkin is Teemu Selanne of Finland in 1992-93 while playing for the Winnipeg Jets. Selanne put up numbers that may never be challenged — 76 goals and 132 points in an 84-game schedule.

Ovechkin last night also assisted on a power play goal by center Dainius Zubrus to give him 50 goals and 102 points on the campaign. The 102-point total moves the left wing into a tie with Hall of Famer Mike Gartner in 1984-85 for second place all-time among Caps single-season point leaders (Dennis Maruk is first with 136 in 1981-82).

Fifty goals moves Ovechkin into a three-way tie for fifth place with Maruk and Gartner among single-season goal leaders for Washington.

“I’m happy he got to 50,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon told the Associated Press. “I would have hated to see him finish at 49 goals. It would have been sad because I know what it has meant to him.”

League-wide, Ovechkin is tied with former Caps player Joe Juneau for fourth place for most points in a season by a rookie. Juneau was playing for Boston in 1992-93 when he had his big season.

Ovechkin is third overall in NHL scoring.

Unlike Monday night in Boston, when he broke a six-game goal-less streak with his 49th to win a game in overtime, there was no huge celebration for his 50th. He did all the things he usually does when he scores — dropping his left knee to the ice, kissing his left glove and then raising it high in a pumping motion. The larger celebration in Boston probably took place because the goal came in such dramatic fashion and at the end of a game.

Ovechkin’s 50th came five seconds after a penalty expired against Atlanta center Derek MacKenzie. Ovechkin had just passed to defenseman Steve Eminger, trying to get a defender to move out of his way. Eminger passed back just as MacKenzie was about to blindside Ovechkin from behind, but he never had the opportunity.

As Eminger’s pass arrived, Ovechkin’s swing already was coming down. He connected with a loud thwack and sent the puck into a partial screen, off the inside edge of the right post and past goalie Mike Dunham.

Zubrus’ goal put Washington back ahead at 3-2 seven minutes into the second period (Brian Willsie opened the scoring 1:11 into the first as the Caps went up 1-0). Ovechkin, standing near the left boards, passed through the crease to Zubrus, who was standing at the inside edge of the right circle. The big center let go with a vicious wrist shot that would have hurt Dunham had he gotten in the way.

Ovechkin still has three games to go to add to his rookie totals — tomorrow night in Florida, Monday at home against Atlanta and Tuesday at Tampa Bay.

The bad news for the opposition is that the rookie scores in bunches after slumps; in Boston, he had his first goal in seven games. Earlier in the season Ovechkin had gone 12 games with just three goals but came back with 15 goals and 26 points in his next 14 games.

In that respect, Ovechkin is similar to another player who scored a ton of goals for Washington, Peter Bondra. The wing would go through lengthy slumps only to come out of them and score often for eight to 10 games.

Bondra, now with Atlanta, had a goal last night, his 20th of the season and the 497th of his illustrious career. In more than 13 seasons with Washington, the wing had a franchise-record 472 goals.

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