- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2020

ARLINGTON — Asked whether he’s witnessed a goal he considers his favorite goal, either as a fan growing up or while playing in the NHL, T.J. Oshie didn’t hesitate. “The goal. Ovi’s ‘the goal.’”

“The goal” in question happened in 2006, long before Oshie was even Alex Ovechkin’s teammate.

In a game against the Coyotes, Ovechkin intercepted a pass in the neutral zone, curled and dragged the puck past a defender into the slot, but then stumbled. As he fell, he still managed a backhand attempt — and the puck slid behind the Coyotes’ netminder and in, all while then-Coyotes coach and hockey legend Wayne Gretzky looked on.

While spectacular goals have happened throughout the history of the sport, they’re becoming more common with a new generation of stars. Even defensemen are getting in on the act, in terms of quantity if not style points.

Altogether, offense around the NHL has grown both more prolific and, in more ways than one, more creative.

Through Tuesday’s games, there are an average of 6.01 goals per game this season, the second straight year that number has surpassed six and just the third time in the past 23 seasons. More impressively, 206 defensemen have combined to put up 772 goals.

The Capitals’ John Carlson could become the NHL’s first 100-point defenseman since Brian Leetch in 1991-92, with 65 points to date (14 goals, 51 assists). Yet he’s just one of 11 blueliners with double-digit goal totals this year, as the Capitals and other teams increasingly let their defensemen go to the front of the net or even below the goal line for scoring opportunities.

“Nowadays, everybody activates the D,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet told the Associated Press. “I don’t think there’s a team that doesn’t try to get their D to join the rush. You can’t just have your top two defensemen (be) offensive guys. You have to have everybody participate.”

Still, the sport’s young star forwards, like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Nathan MacKinnon, dominate the discussion. Ovechkin’s recent tear — 14 goals in his last seven games — pushed him into the league lead with 40, but the next seven top goal-scorers behind him are all 24 years old or younger.

“I think it’s just kind of the trend of the way the league’s going with everything,” Capitals forward Tom Wilson said. “It’s getting younger, it’s getting more skilled, it’s getting a little more flamboyant. Guys are wearing different styles. … There’s always been those guys that tried it back in the day and stuff, but now I feel like there’s a lot more of that. Guys are more comfortable to go out there and try something crazy.”

The latest “fad” among young forwards is the lacrosse-style goal, which was executed this regular season by both Carolina Hurricanes forward Andrei Svechnikov and Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg. In both cases, they carried the puck behind the net, lifted and balanced it on the blade of their stick and dumped it in over the crossbar, behind the goalie’s back.

Capitals forward T.J. Oshie credited YouTube and social media for a new generation that is willing and able to learn trick shots like the lacrosse goal.

“These kids I think don’t have to be as creative, and they can just kind of learn and see it, and then just practice it, practice it, practice it,” Oshie said. “And by the time they get up to juniors or college or pro, they’ve been doing this move for 10 years.”

Oshie and Wilson have had their own highlight-reel moments this year, in different ways. Oshie has had his moments with some successful shootout goals, one of his specialites, while on Jan. 16 Wilson pulled off a “spin-o-rama” assist from the left boards to feed Ovechkin for a goal, his third.

As for the “favorite goal” question, Wilson didn’t have one that stood out, though it did bring him back to his childhood days.

“A lot of the time we were watching the hockey game on Saturday night but then we were playing ball hockey or mini-sticks around the backyard rink during that game,” Wilson said. “We would always pretend to be different players from around the league and stuff. If there was a big goal that was scored that night maybe you’d reenact it, but there’s not really one that I remember that fondly.”

But more and more of today’s youngest hockey fans can watch anyone from Ovechkin to McDavid to Svechnikov and witness a memorable goal, and perhaps be inspired to get creative themselves.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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