Photo: Patrick McDermott
With a hard-nosed drive to the net on Tuesday, Alex Ovechkin ended a three-game goal-less slump in which he took just nine shots. Though Ovechkin recorded assists in two of those three games, that week without a goal, the league leader board, and the general seeming malaise of the Caps power play might have some people anxious about Alex Ovechkin’s production.
There’s no need. He’s fine. He’s better than fine. He’s great.
Twenty five games into last season, Ovechkin had 12 goals and 9 assists. Eight of those 21 points were from the power play alone (6 goals, 2 assists.) So far this season, Ovechkin is ahead of that pace with 13 goals and 11 assists. Even more impressively, that offense has relied less on the power play (4 goals and 2 assists). And yet it seems like Ovi isn’t performing like he should. Maybe it’s because Evgeny Kuznetsov is leading the team in points, or maybe it’s this:
Ovechkin is six goals off the league lead, which seems like a lot, but it’s not. While league leader Jamie Benn is a total stud, he won’t be a 22-percent shooting stud all season. Nor will Kane continue his torrid scoring streak forever.
What lasts and what can actually give us insight into the future are underlying shot patterns, and that’s where Ovechkin looks great.
Depending on which stat you use (on goal, unblocked, or attempted), Ovechkin is either holding steady or improving his individual shot rate. So far, at age 30, he’s putting shots on goal at a higher clip than any season since 2009-10. If he were not a sui generis player, we’d have expected Ovechkin’s offense to have dropped off much further by now. And while age-related decay is inevitably coming for Ovi, he’s showing few signs of it now.
The story is the same on the power play.
While his total attempted shots are down, Ovechkin is forcing the goalie to make saves about on par with last season. It’s possible those shots and misses will drop off and fall into proportion with overall shot attempts as the sample grows, but for now there’s no reason to panic. Really, you should do the opposite. Ovechkin is shooting 8.2 percent on the power play this season, down from about 20 percent over the previous three seasons. That’s a difference of about 5-6 goals, the distance between Ovechkin and the league lead. Even if you believe defensive coverage has changed or the Caps have gotten less good at giving Ovi a prime shooting chance, you’d be hard-pressed to attribute a 12 percentage point drop-off to that alone. Bad luck is a more plausible explanation for most of that decrease.
Taking a step back, the Capitals are overall generating more offense (in goals and shot attempts, 3.6 GF60 and 47.1 unblocked shot attempts/60) when Ovi’s on the ice during 5v5 than in any season since 2010. And this might be Ovechkin’s best defensive season ever (1.8 GA60, 36.8 unblocked opponent shot attempts/60).
You combine an acknowledgment of bad shooting luck during the power play with Ovechkin’s sterling underlying numbers during all game states, and there is no reason not to cheer — unless you’re an Eastern Conference goalie.
In his preseason report, Rob Vollman projected Alex Ovechkin to score 43 goals this season. That’s about the pace Ovechkin is on right now. If he keeps doing what he’s doing and gets a few more lucky bounces, he should surpass it.
Alex Ovechkin might not hit 50 goals again this season, and he might not win the Richard Trophy for the fourth consecutive year. If that’s the way it turns out, fine. But as of this moment in early December, everything is pointing to another big season for the Great Eight. At age 30, that’s remarkable.
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