- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2017

At first, Alexander Ovechkin just sat down on the bench like everything was normal. He had just scored, which he had done 544 times before. It was game 41 on a Wednesday night in January. But Ovechkin’s teammates coaxed him to stand up. After all, Ovechkin had just recorded his 1,000th career point on a goal 35 seconds into the game against the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

Ovechkin then rose, basking in his moment. His mother, Tatyana, his father, Mikhail, his brother, Mikhail and his wife, Nastya, were in attendance. The crowd roared in applause, his teammates banged their sticks on the boards and Ovechkin eventually gave a hesitant wave to the crowd.

“They’ve been great since day one, this organization,” Ovechkin said of the fans. “When we play well, they’re cheering us, and when we lose, they still cheering us. I think the fanbase is unbelievable here. It’s great to play in this place.”

The puck was immediately given to equipment manager Craig “Woody” Leydig, who wrapped it in tape and wrote “Ovechkin 1,000” on it in blue block letters. The team’s plan is to frame Ovechkin’s jersey, a scoresheet, and the puck as a keepsake.

His opening goal was part of a festive night in Verizon Center. The 5-2 win against Pittsburgh was the Capitals’ seventh consecutive victory. Center Nicklas Backstrom was honored for his 500th assist, which he recorded two games prior on the road. And even Capitals coach Barry Trotz had to stop to acknowledge the crowd when he was honored for coaching his 1,401st game. That pushed Trotz past Pat Quinn for eighth place all-time.

About nine hours before his 545th goal pushed Ovechkin to 1,000 points, he discussed the heft that total carried. He’s the first player in more than two years to reach 1,000 points. He’s just one of six active players to reach the mark.

“It’s a real big number,” Ovechkin said Wednesday morning. “Obviously it’s nice to do it at home in front of fans and my family. It’s special.”

On Oct. 5, 2005, Ovechkin recorded his first career point, a one-timer goal off of a pass from Dainius Zubrus against the Columbus Blue Jackets. At the time, the Capitals were bottom dwellers, with just a beacon of hope in the mopped-headed rookie. But since Ovechkin’s arrival, the franchise has transformed. From black and bronze sweaters to red and blue. From an empty arena to a nightly jam-packed home. From a team of disappointment to a team that consistently threatens. Ovechkin has become a face of not only his franchise, but one of the most important ones in the league. Ovechkin and Penguins star Sidney Crosby have been pitted since the two joined the league 2005, and it has helped fuel the NHL ever since.

“We’re just trying to do it together, and Ovi made a lot of sacrifices over the years, everything from carrying the burden of a franchise to now where I think we have a good team and we spread the wealth a little bit so his minutes maybe come down,” Trotz said. “But it’s for the betterment of the team and all that stuff. I think there’s a real great growth for Ovi, and that stuff that he’s done, not only in Washington but league-wide. I was saying to some people this morning that Ovi and Sid are sort of two guys who got the league right back to the forefront. They’ve had a great rivalry from day one.”

That’s in part what made the early Ovechkin goal so dramatic. It was done against Crosby’s Penguins — the team that knocked the Capitals out of the playoffs last year — in a nationally televised game, called “Rivalry Night” by television executives. It was another moment of flair from a player that is all about it.

Last season, Ovechkin chased a different milestone, the highest goal scoring mark set by a Russian-born player. But that was different. Ovechkin seemed desperate to accomplish the feat. In his first opportunity to set the mark, he shot the puck 15 times against the Detroit Red Wings. The Capitals would lose. It would take Ovechkin another four games to pass Sergei Fedorov. But this time, when presented the opportunity to accomplish a goal, it took Ovechkin just 35 seconds.

“I think he’s just calmer,” Trotz said. “I think the one last year, I think it was in Detroit when he had like 50 shots in one game trying to tie that one… That was one I thought he was a little bit nervous. I don’t know if nervous was the right word — he was a little hyper for. This one, he was all business today. It was really good. He was very sincere after the game talking to all the guys. You can’t do this alone, and he’s had a lot of people help him along.”

It took Ovechkin just 880 games to reach 1,000 career points. He became the 84th player in the history of the NHL to reach the 1,000 point milestone, and the second-fastest active player to reach the mark, trailing only Jaromir Jagr, who did it in 763 games.

“It took him long enough,” forward Justin Williams said with a laugh. “I’m not shocked about anything he does. It was awesome to get it over with.”

The point also marks the first time a Capitals player has reached 1,000 points within the franchise. He’s just the 37th player in NHL history to record 1,000 points with a single team.

The goal came on a two-on-one opportunity in the game’s first shift. Linemate T.J. Oshie fed the puck to the middle of the ice to Backstrom, who pushed the puck back to Ovechkin. Ovechkin gathered the puck, entered the offensive zone and then cut right to the center of the slot. With a quick wrist shot, Ovechkin beat Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for the 545th goal of his career.

It made sense that Backstrom, who recently passed the 500-assist milestone just two games ago against the Ottawa Senators, assisted on the goal. It was the 205th time Backstrom had earned an assist on an Ovechkin goal.

“He’s the guy that I enjoy playing with, and we play with each other well,” Ovechkin said. “We have good chemistry together since day one.”

“You can attach Backy’s name to so many of Ovi’s goals,” Trotz said. “It was only fitting.”

Ovechkin is the first player to reach the milestone since San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau accomplished the feat on Nov. 22, 2015, joining an elite class of NHL players. He is one of just six active players to reach the mark (Florida Panthers’ Jagr, San Jose Sharks’ Joe Thornton, Colorado Avalanche’s Jarome Iginla, Chicago Blackhawks’ Marian Hossa and Marleau are the others). Of the active players to record 1,000 points, only Ovechkin and Marleau have accomplished it with the one team.

“It’s amazing,” Oshie said at the morning skate. “For a guy his age to put the points up consistently every year, or it seems that every year he reaches that 50-goal plateau, it’s amazing. It’s amazing what he’s been able to do night in and night out. I wasn’t here for a good majority of them, but I’m glad I’m here now for the milestone.”

Ovechkin also joins an upper class of Russian players. Only Alexei Kovalev (1,029), Alexander Mogilny (1,032) and Ovechkin’s former teammate Fedorov (1,179) have made it to 1,000 points. Ovechkin is proud to join the best his homeland had to offer in the NHL, especially his good friend Fedorov.

“It’s a very legendary club,” Ovechkin said earlier in the day. “I got lucky to play with Fedorov for a couple of years, and get to know him as a person. It’ll be nice to be in the same company.”

With the goal, Ovechkin also passed Maurice “Rocket” Richard on the all-time goals list, to move into 29th place. Ovechkin has won the Rocket Richard Trophy, named after the aforementioned scorer, six times in his career, including the last four seasons. No player has won the award as many times as Ovechkin since the award’s inception in 1999.

Of active players, Ovechkin trails only Iginla (616) and Jagr (756) in career goals.

Ovechkin recorded point number 1,001 in the second period. It came in vintage Ovechkin style, a power play goal from his typical spot in the left face-off circle off of a feed from John Carlson and a secondary assist from Backstrom. He was already on to pursuing the next 1,000.

“Why not?” Ovechkin said.

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