The Kings will be gunning to match their season-best win streak Monday, but to keep their engines humming they will have to contend with a Russian machine that never breaks.
They’ll welcome Alex Ovechkin, who remains in hot pursuit of Wayne Gretzky’s career record for goals, and the Washington Capitals on Monday, when the Kings will have designs on their fourth four-game surge of this campaign.
Ovechkin has 35 goals in 59 games this season, bringing his total to 815, 79 shy of Gretzky’s record.
As Ovechkin approached another milestone, his 700th goal, the man who was perhaps Gretzky’s closest on-ice confidant assessed the Great Eight’s chances of surpassing the Great One. Initially skeptical, as he worked through various possibilities in his mind, he reached a conclusion that seemed even more sound 116 goals later.
“If there’s a player who can do it, he’s the guy,” said Hall of Fame winger Jari Kurri, who was once also the leading goal-scorer among NHL players born in Europe, as Ovechkin became when he surpassed Jaromir Jagr’s mark of 766.
In that February 2020 interview, Kurri said Ovechkin and Gretzky, with whom Kurri played for both the Kings and Edmonton Oilers, were impossible to compare stylistically. Where Gretzky, a center, could have led the NHL in career points without having scored a single goal because of his preternatural playmaking, Ovechkin, a winger, has been more in the mold of snipers like the late Mike Bossy or the father/son duo Bobby and Brett Hull.
“He’s just one of those natural goal-scorers. His game is about shooting. No one can take that shot away from him. He finds a way to get open and he doesn’t miss the net that often,” Kurri said.
Ovechkin didn’t miss the net often in San Jose on Saturday either, where his two goals and three points powered Washington past the Sharks in an 8-3 beatdown. Since 2008, the Caps have missed the playoffs just once, but they currently trail rival Pittsburgh for the final Eastern Conference wild-card berth.
Washington spent much of the season without its No. 1 defenseman, John Carlson (facial injury), who has yet to play a game in the 2023 calendar year, and without top center Nicklas Backstrom, who didn’t make his season debut until Jan. 8 after undergoing hip surgery. Hard-nosed winger Tom Wilson underwent knee surgery and has been limited to 15 games. In Wednesday’s win over the Ducks, Wilson potted a goal in regulation and the overtime game-winner. Forward Connor Brown (knee) is likely out for the season, among other injury issues.
In addition to all those absences, the Caps opted to sell off pieces at the deadline, including two veteran defensemen, and are down two other blue-liners, in addition to Carlson, due to injury at the moment. They hope their veteran-heavy group can be enriched by fresh faces, most notably defenseman Rasmus Sandin, whom they acquired from Toronto ahead of last Friday’s trade deadline.
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The Kings, of course, were also active, making multiple deals as well, most prominently one that sent one of the franchise’s former deities, Jonathan Quick, to Columbus as part of a deal for a pair of useful components. They’ve integrated defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov into the lineup, playing him in a shutdown pair with Matt Roy Saturday after he skated with Sean Walker in Thursday’s win over Montreal. In the Kings’ 4-2 victory against St. Louis Saturday, goalie Joonas Korpisalo looked solid in his Kings debut.
“I just have to play my game and not worry about anything else,” Korpisalo said. “That’s what I’ve been doing this year, and I’m not thinking about anything else but stopping the puck.”
Gavrikov hasn’t found the stat sheet, much less flexed his trademark “call me” goal celebration yet, but his disruption of a play in the Kings’ zone led directly to a transition goal Saturday. He has also done what he was brought in to do: limit space, get his stick on pucks, check opponents diligently, kill penalties and protect the net.
“He seems like a quiet player in a good way,” Roy said. “He’s always in position, he’s always doing the right things, he’s got a great stick. He just kind of makes it easy to play with.”
Washington at Kings
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Crypto.com Arena
TV/radio: Bally Sports West/iHeart Radio (English) and Tu Liga 1330 (Spanish)