Photo credit: Bill Wippert

By all accounts it was a disappointing individual season, as much as you can call 32 goals and 85 points “disappointing.” No Hart nomination. No Lindsay, Art Ross, or Richard trophies either — none of the individual accolades we are used to seeing from the game’s most dynamic player.

So what can we expect next year for Alex Ovechkin? Will we see another Hart-worthy performance, or is another 30-goal season in the offing? The most glaring change from this season to the others, besides the diminished scoring, was the way Ovechkin was used throughout the season. Using data from Behind the Net, we can see some definite trends during even-strength and when Washington has the man advantage.

First, even-strength:

Season Age GP TOI/60 G/60 P/60 Corsi Rel QoC On ice Sh% Ozone%
2008 22 82 16.60 1.68 3.00 0.128 10.71 58.1
2009 23 79 15.94 1.57 2.86 -0.336 10.20 58.3
2010 24 72 16.00 1.87 3.70 0.143 12.52 55.6
2011 25 79 16.11 0.99 2.59 0.479 9.09 51.6

Ovechkin’s 5v5 ice time per 60 minutes (TOI/60) has been astonishingly stable over the past few years. Bruce Boudreau makes sure his best player sees as much time on the ice as he can. The team as a whole got very lucky in 2009-10, especially when Ovechkin was on the ice during 5v5 play. The team shot 12.5 percent (On ice Sh%) and got a good amount of starts in the offensive zone (Ozone%) against relatively weak opposition (Corsi Rel QoC).

This year, we saw the opposite: fewer starts in offensive zone, lower shooting percentage and stiffer competition, resulting in Ovechkin’s worst year statistically since he broke into the league in 2005. The outlier is clearly the 2009-10 season. While it is unlikely the team will see a 12 percent Sh% or be matched up against weak competition when Ovechkin is on the ice, the coaching staff can control how many offensive zone starts he sees during even-strength, which would go a long way in putting the NHL’s best scorer in prime scoring territory more often. An offseason priority, to me, needs to be a specialist who can take defensive zone face-offs so Ovechkin’s line doesn’t have to. Maybe that is Boyd Gordon, maybe that is a free agent, but it seems clear that is a step that helps solves the part of the problem that is within the organization’s control.

Now for the power play. Uh oh.

Season TOI/60 G/60 P/60 SFON/60 On ice Sh%
2008 5.31 3.03 4.55 43.7 13.86
2009 5.11 2.53 6.09 53.9 16.93
2010 4.74 2.46 5.8 50.4 15.09
2011 4.14 0.92 3.48 55.2 9.34

Ovechkin, who plays 90 percent of Washington’s power play minutes, has consistently seen his man advantage ice time go down in the past four years. Shots generated (SFON/60) has been high, especially last year. The “puck luck” (On ice Sh%) wasn’t there this year, but that is largely out of the team’s control. What is in their control is generating shots on the power play and drawing more power plays than the opposition. More power play time would certainly help Ovechkin’s boxcar stats, and that requires Washington to play more disciplined hockey. And it’s not just Bad Sasha. Only four Caps skaters were in the black for net penalties (penalties drawn – penalties taken) as opposed to eight last year.

So what can we expect next year for Alex Ovechkin? If things stay the same we probably see another 30-35 goal season. If the organization uses the offseason wisely, we could see at least one more spectacular season where Ovechkin is the league’s best player again.

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  • Peter

    This is my favorite piece by Neil until the next one.

    My first offseason goal is to get a lifetime contract for Matt Bradley. My second, thanks to this argument, is a defensive center/FO specialist.

    Third is a pony.

    Four? Ovechkin in the slot on the power play.

    Five is a trip to six flags with Matt Bradley’s family. Six through ten are personal.

  • Livia

    Thanks, Neil, for this clear, timely and brilliant analysis. Your numbers show plainly how the ripples set off by one weakness–a dearth options for defensive-zone face-off man–can disrupt the play of the rest of the team. It’s cause for optimism, too, since it seems like a solvable problem, and may well help heal many a Caps fan’s broken heart.

  • Anonymous

    I agree if things stay the same AO won’t have a great year, but he shot the lowest percentage of his career too, so while his points may stay the same, I think an increase in goals is likely, maybe even 40 all else being equal. He’s one of the most prolific shooters in the history of the league, that has to work in his favor.

  • Kay Sieck

    In the attempt to play better defense the offense was lost. When watching the team play it was obvious they forgot how to have fun. Talent was stifled and stars were clouded. They need a nice balance of both, to have a good offense you need a good defense and to have a good defense you need a good offense. Let’s hope they get their spark back during the off season. Besides, I want to see Ovi dance.

  • Jeremy

    What exactly does this sentence mean?

    “If the organization uses the offseason wisely, we could see at least one more spectacular season where Ovechkin is the league’s best player again.”

    If the organization uses the offseason wisely? How about OV himself this offseason. Rather than gaze into a crystal ball, OV needs to look in a mirror. He’s not been the same player for a year and a half. He either ups his game or floats on past accomplishments. Last year he floated.

  • Neil – RMNB

    @Jeremy While I agree that he has “not been the same player for a year and a half,” he also has not been given the CHANCE to be. Less offensive zone starts against tougher competition coupled with less PP time would depress anyone’s numbers.

    Plus, he is getting older and the odds of him having another 40+ goal season without help (PP time, zone starts, etc) is a longshot.

    We need to recalibrate our expectations.

  • Anonymous

    Frankly, no one scores 40 goals without lots of those kinds of help.

  • BobbyG

    Not only do we Caps fans need to recalibrate our expectations, but IMO Ovie does too. Yes, he’s still young but at the same time getting older season by season. With age there should be more experience and with it, learning lessons from it. I think past disappointments in the playoffs and Olympics weighed heavily on him, and he wasn’t prepared emotionally or psychologically to deal with it. We can talk about stats and giving him more on-ice chances to be spectacular again, but unless and until Ovie can exorcise his personal demons, it will be very difficult if not impossible for him to recapture past glory .

    Another thing Ovie needs to address is his conditioning prior to start of training camp. IMO last season Ovie started training way too late and not very well, choosing not to follow his regular trainer and instead working out with Ilya Kovalchuk in the Moscow area. It’s no coincidence that both players struggled offensively, especially early in the season. Ovie has pledged to approach his off-season training differently this year, so at least he recognizes that he must make better decisions to prepare for training camp. A concession to getting older perhaps, or wiser with age? I will be very interested to see if he makes this commitment, and how it impacts his stamina and offensive production.

  • ZonkerBrainless

    Ovie looked kind of roly-poly this year. Maybe cutting down on the burgers a little would help his game.

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