Ovi, Gretzky settling greatness — at video games

    Emily Kaplan is ESPN’s national NHL reporter.

Alex Ovechkin is just 188 goals away from tying Wayne Gretzky’s career record of 894. And while the NHL season is on pause, fans will get the chance to see who truly is the greatest goal scorer — in video games.

Gretzky and Ovechkin have agreed to square off in EA Sports’ NHL 20 next Wednesday. The one-night event, played on Xbox, will be a best of-three-series and will be streamed on the Capitals’ Twitch channel. All proceeds raised will go to the Edmonton Food Bank and Monumental Sports & Entertainment’s Feeding the Frontlines fund, which supports coronavirus relief in the D.C. area.

According to The Washington Post, Gretzky pitched the idea to the Capitals after seeing an Instagram video of Ovechkin playing video games with his toddler son, Sergei, sitting on his lap.

“There’s been so much talk about the goal record, so there’s a nice link between Alex and myself,” Gretzky told the Post. “I thought we could do something that people could watch and help raise money for those who need it.”

The Capitals, owned by Monumental Sports & Entertainment, have been active in esport initiatives. In 2019, the Capitals’ sub-brand, Caps Gaming, made John “JohnWayne” Casagranda the first esports pro to be officially signed by an NHL organization. Casagranda is expected to join Ovechkin in the April 22 event. Gretzky is expected to play with his 19-year-old son, Tristan, who is a freshman at Pepperdine.

“Obviously, we’re a little better when we have our skates on and a hockey stick in our hands than we are when we have controllers, but it’s not about that,” Gretzky told the Post. “It’s more about the ability to help people that are less fortunate and for fans to enjoy a night of us not looking very talented at what we’re doing. It’ll be a fun night for a good cause. We’re not looking to replace the NHL because we all want to see guys like Alex and Sidney [Crosby] and [Connor] McDavid back on the ice. That’s what really excites fans.”

Gretzky has openly rooted for Ovechkin to beat his goals record, and the two have developed a close friendship. They recently recorded their first joint interview, which will air Monday on NBC Sports.

Ovechkin joined the 700-goal club this season. At the time of the NHL’s pause last month, he was tied with the Boston Bruins’ David Pastrnak for the season lead with 48 goals.

Ovechkin, 34, is two goals shy of his ninth 50-goal season, which would tie Mike Bossy and Gretzky for the most in NHL history. Ovechkin had 13 regular-season games to get it done. He was also set to become the second-oldest player to score 50, following Boston’s Johnny Bucyk, who was 35 when he did it 49 years ago.

“Of course you want to score 50,” Ovechkin told reporters last month. “But right now, the most important thing is to stay safe and make sure this [pandemic] is done. It sucks to not score 50 and to not get another milestone, but you have to think about your family, people and the fans to be more safe.”

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