Photo credit: Kim Klement
The scuttlebutt about Alex Ovechkin on the penalty kill turned to be accurate on Saturday night. Kicking off the season in Tampa, Alex Ovechkin served 69 seconds of the game’s six man-down situations, and while he kept the Lightning scoreless in that span, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for the team’s best scorer to spend his time on the wrong side of the ice.
Looking at the habits of the league’s best scorers last season, we see that more PK time isn’t the key to getting the most out of Ovechkin– it’s the opposite.
Since we’re talking about Alex Ovechkin and the league’s goal-scoring elite, I looked up the top-20 goal-scoring forwards in 2011-2012.
Of the top-20 goal scorers, just five averaged more than a minute per game on PK: Ilya Kovalchuk, Corey Perry, Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza, and Patrick Sharp– 4 players known as “two-way forwards” and the guy Adam Oates coached last year. While Radim Vrbata and Steven Stamkos also played shorthanded, the majority of top-scorers last season played virtually no time at all back there.
|Player||Avg. PK Time|
I consider that a pattern, and one with an obvious meaning: highly successful goal-scorers spend time where goals are scored. Taking the player who is most valuable to your team as a goal-scorer and putting him in a situation where goals are rarely scored is a poor deployment strategy.
Adam Oates should do the opposite. When teams are at even strength, Ovechkin should start at least 60% of his shifts a faceoff in the offensive zone. Per Behind the Net, Ovi started in the O-zone just 52.6% of the time last season. Of those same top-20 goal-scoring forwards, 14 saw better deployments, including all four of the players ahead of him in the Rocket Richard race.
|Player||Off. Zone %|
Note: Offensive zone % excludes neutral zone starts.
Alex Ovechkin is now one year older than the average age of last season’s top goal-scorers. He’s 27, two years past what is usually the peak year for scoring. He needs a deliberate effort to counteract the natural effect aging has on scoring. He needs great linemates and more ice time spent nearer the net that needs crashing. Placing Ovechkin in shorthanded situations would just accelerate the inevitable decline in his offense.
The only compelling argument I’ve heard in support of Ovechkin playing shorthanded is that he may gain insight on how to be more effective when he’s on the powerplay. Wouldn’t in-depth video sessions yield the same result without the costs and risks that come with penalty-kill service? There are markedly fewer incidents of broken bones from blocked shots in the video room at Kettler.
But if you still want Alex Ovechkin to serve on the PK, you should also attenuate your expectations for his goal output this season. You should expect the inevitable dropoff in his production to come sooner and with more severity. That is the cost of creating a well-rounded player out of a goal-scoring phenom.
And frankly, I’m not sure what the virtue is in making Alex Ovechkin more well-rounded anyway. “Well-rounded” smacks of all the same euphemisms as the “maturity” stuff I hear surrounding his engagement to Maria Kirilenko. I don’t want Ovechkin to be a mature, well-rounded player; I want him to be an effective, optimized producer. I want him to be a manic, goal-scoring machine. I want him to be himself, because that’s how the eight became great in the first place.
Let’s give Ovechkin 60+% of his starts in the offensive zone. Let’s give him 20 solid minutes of ice time per game. Let’s give him a PK shift every once in a while, but keep his average under 10 seconds per game. Let’s let him play the way we know he can.
Let Ovi be Ovi.