Ovechkin passes Jagr in goals
by Lucas Aykroyd|16 MAR 2022
Alexander Ovechkin (left) overtook Jaromir Jagr (right) in all-time goal scoring in the NHL.
photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images
Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals scored in a 4-3 home shootout win over the New York Islanders on Tuesday to become the all-time leading European goal-scorer in NHL history.

Ovechkin’s 767th career goal – lifting him past Czech legend Jaromir Jagr – came with 4:58 left in the third period. Centre Yevgeni Kuznetsov won a faceoff in the Islanders zone and got the puck back to Ovechkin at the edge of the faceoff circle. The veteran Russian left winger’s high shot beat Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov, and the partisan Capital One Arena crowd erupted.
“I just closed my eyes and shot,” Ovechkin said of his 37th goal of 2021-22. “I had some pretty good chances in previous games. Finally, Kuzy won a good faceoff right on my stick. To score on a very good friend in Varly [a longtime Washington and Russian national teammate], it’s nice too.”

Ovechkin had tied Jagr’s career mark of 766 goals on 8 March with two goals in a 5-4 road victory over the Calgary Flames.

The 36-year-old Capitals captain is now the third-highest goal-scorer in NHL history. The only two players ahead of him are long-retired Canadian greats: Wayne Gretzky (894) and Gordie Howe (801).

Earlier this season, Ovechkin surpassed Marcel Dionne (731) and Brett Hull (741). With 279 career NHL power play goals, he has also outstripped Dave Andreychuk, the previous record-holder (274).
“The Great 8” achieved his newest milestone in just 1,256 NHL games, compared to 1,755 games for Jagr. All of Ovechkin’s goals have come with Washington, while Jagr – although best-known for winning two Stanley Cups and five NHL scoring titles with the Pittsburgh Penguins – skated for nine different NHL clubs,

This year, Ovechkin is within striking distance of his ninth 50-goal season, which would tie him with Gretzky and Mike Bossy for the most 50-goal seasons in NHL history. At 36, the Moscow native, who has won nine Rocket Richard Trophies, would also be the oldest NHL 50-goal scorer ever.

“The one thing that I’ve learned about Ovi over my time is that when you doubt Ovi or you say he can’t do it, he digs in,” said Islanders coach Barry Trotz, who stood behind the Washington bench when the Capitals won their first Stanley Cup in 2018 as Ovechkin was named playoff MVP. “He just digs in and is determined on that.”

Breaking Jagr’s goals record on home ice offered a more welcoming environment for Ovechkin than during Washington’s recent Western Canadian road swing, where he was consistently booed. Ovechkin, who leads all Russian NHLers in career points (1,392), has come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks in regard to his political stances.
Due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russian and Belarusian national teams have been suspended from all IIHF tournaments until further notice, and the 2023 World Juniors will not be played in Russia.

Jagr, who wears jersey number 68 to commemorate the 1968 Prague Spring when Soviet troops invaded Czechoslovakia, is unlikely to return to the NHL and chase Ovechkin. However, the 50-year-old, who won Olympic gold in 1998 and two Worlds golds (2005, 2010), remains active in the Czech Extraliga with Rytiri Kladno, where he has put up 19 points in 43 games this season.

As Kladno’s owner, Jagr organized an 8 March benefit game against HC Sparta Praha. It attracted 14,152 fans to Prague’s O2 Arena – which hosted the 2004 and 2015 Worlds – and raised about $160,000 USD to support Ukrainian families who have sought refuge in Czechia. 

Meanwhile, Jagr also recorded a congratulatory, tongue-in-cheek video message for Ovechkin.
Realistically, Ovechkin’s new goals record for Europeans could stand for decades. Fellow countryman Yevgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins ranks second overall (434 goals in 965 games) at age 35.

The most likely active Europeans who could catch Ovechkin are two former Rocket Richard Trophy winners: Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers (238 goals in 589 games), who is 26, and David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins (233 goals in 498 games), who is 25. Yet even their odds are slim.

Ovechkin – a three-time Olympian and three-time Worlds gold medalist – remains under contract with Washington through 2025-26. Barring injury, it is highly likely he will pass Howe in goals next season. And he has a strong chance of passing Gretzky to become the all-time goals leader before his 40th birthday. Ovechkin would need close to 30 goals per season to achieve that feat.