Dean Evason oversaw the penalty kill from 2005 to 2012 while he was an assistant with the Capitals, but he was frequently approached by someone who starred on Washington’s power play.
“He’s always like, ‘How come I can’t play PK?’ He’d come to me all the time — all the time,” the interim Wild coach recalled. “We’d have to say stuff like, ‘We don’t want you blocking shots,’ stuff like that. He wanted to be on the ice all the time.”
Not getting steady shorthanded minutes doesn’t appear to have hindered Ovechkin too much.
The 34-year-old Russian winger scored his 700th career goal Feb. 22 in New Jersey and sits eighth all-time in NHL history after passing the likes of Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman and Mark Messier this season.
Ovechkin still has a way to go to catch Wayne Gretzky, who holds the record at 894, but Wild players believe Ovechkin can close the gap and become the new leader.
“If he continues like this,” winger Kevin Fiala said, “he’s going to get it for sure.”
With a scoring average of 0.61 goals-per-game in his career, which ranks fifth in league history, Ovechkin is on track to score his 800th goal in approximately another 164 games.
That pace would also have him surpass Gretzky in about 320 more games — which is sometimes within the next four seasons.
“What he does is remarkable,” said winger Mats Zuccarello, who went head-to-head with Ovechkin regularly when Zuccarello was with the Rangers. “He scores from everywhere. Every game, every year is the same. … There’s a couple records that are probably never going to be broken. You hope someday they will because records are made to get broken.”
Although winger Zach Parise acknowledged it’s difficult to compare players from different generations since the game has evolved, he believes Ovechkin could have been in the debate for the greatest goal scorer of all time a couple years ago. What impresses Parise is how unstoppable Ovechkin’s shot can be, even though the entire arena is anticipating it.
“I do think he will [pass Gretzky], and I hope he does,” Parise said. “I just think it’s good for the game and then you can say one day, ‘I played against that guy.’ ”
A rookie during Evason’s first season on the Capitals coaching staff, Ovechkin remembered Evason as a “straight-up coach” who cracked jokes.
“He’s a good person,” Ovechkin said. “Wish him luck.”
And the impression Ovechkin made on Evason was how much fun it was to be in his presence.
“What’s so great about Alexander Ovechkin is his excitement for the game,” Evason said. “He’s like a little kid. He’s so excited to play hockey and works so hard. It was a pleasure. Did you see him scoring goals? Sure. To the rate that he is? I don’t know. But my gosh he can shoot the puck, clearly, as well as anybody that’s ever played the game. He’s a good person, and that sets him apart as well.”
The Wild’s road trip last week wasn’t just a boon for the team, as it outscored the opposition 12-1 in a pair of lopsided victories.
It was also a showcase of Jordan Greenway’s range.
On Thursday, the 6-f6, 225-pound winger looked like a running back breaking tackles — eluding pressure from three players before unleashing a shot in the back of the net during the 7-1 drubbing of the Red Wings.
“He throws guys off of him with one arm,” winger Marcus Foligno said. “They can’t get him. He’s got such a long reach. That shift was the perfect DNA of his game.”
In the 5-0 takedown of the Blue Jackets the next night, Greenway’s finesse was on display when he threaded a drop pass through a Columbus player’s legs to center Joel Eriksson Ek for the game-opening goal.
“I know what the bottom of his stick looks like,” Greenway said of Eriksson Ek. “I just saw it out of the corner of my eye.”
Forward Luke Kunin, who’s missed the past five games with an upper-body injury suffered Feb. 21, skated Sunday morning and is “very close” to a return, Evason said.
Defenseman Carson Soucy’s status remains unchanged. He also has been out since Feb. 21 with an upper-body injury that’s expected to sideline him for two to four weeks.