Alex Ovechkin is the face of the Washington Capitals. In 2013-14 he scored more goals than anyone else. He also got more criticism than anyone else. Why? And what’s next for the world’s most explosive scorer, now about to play under his fifth coach and exiting his prime scoring years?
By the Numbers
|20.1||Average time on ice per game|
|49.3%||Shot attempt percentage during 5v5|
|36.2%||Goal percentage during 5v5|
|6.0%||On-ice shooting percentage during 5v5|
|90.6%||On-ice saving percentage during 5v5|
Alex Ovechkin scored 51 goals. Any discussion of his season needs to begin and end with that statement. Only 18 players have cracked 50 in the last decade, and five of them are Ovi. If you’re formulating an argument about why Alex Ovechkin is not a world-class hockey player, lemme stop you right there. He is– though he’s certainly been through the wringer this year. And last year. And the one before that. And really in every year all the way back to when folks decided he needed to change his game in the first place.
If you add up a player’s on-ice shooting percentage and on-ice save percentage, you get a made-up stat called PDO. When the number is below 100, that means the player is seeing bad results usually independent of their individual effort. Ovi’s PDO this season was 96.5, in the 6th percentile among full-time forwards. Despite unloading shots at a top-3 clip, Ovi still got outscored during 5v5. That suggests the problems are a) luck-driven and bound to self-correct, b) systemic and should be addressed by tactical and lineup changes, or c) an indication that the player is an uncoachable coach-killer who kills coaches and likes it. C is the flimsiest conclusion and also the most repeated. Some combination of A and B seems more reasonable to me.
Something clearly isn’t working on that top line. Marcus Johansson’s contribution to the cause is astonishingly understated (via zone entries and little else), and even Nick Backstrom has seen diminishing returns when playing as Ovi’s pivot. Incoming coach Barry Trotz will be judged first and foremost on how he deals with this problem. Playing Jay Beagle next to Ovi, switching his wing, or assigning him PK time will not be acceptable responses.
It’s been a litany of stuff that has turned Ovechkin from the most dynamic scorer in the league into a PDO piñata. Some of that stuff is personnel, some of it is tactical, and some of it is individual. It’s a complicated puzzle and if you solve it, you get a buttload of goals and wins and a delighted fanbase and a happy superstar franchise player.
But if your solution to the puzzle is to change him into a backchecking, penalty-killing guy who kind of resembles that guy who used to be Ovi, then we’d all be better off if you trade him.
I spent this whole thing talking about even strength, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Ovechkin’s excellent work on the power play, where he scored nearly half of his goals. The power play formulation, which was either a genius stroke by Adam Oates or just a completely reasonable correction after Dale Hunter’s ineptitude, was built around Alex Ovechkin’s slapshot. That slapper is good for a goal on every fifth shot. The Ovi Spot (which I coined, yay me) doesn’t seem to have been solved by the rest of the league yet. For that reason, let’s hope the Caps are wise enough to keep feeding at the trough. And maybe they can find a way to get Ovi into that position for a one-timer during 5v5 play as well. (Hint: it would require him carrying the puck less.)
I’ve got a million more thoughts about Ovi, but I wanna get you down to the links and GIFs. A few quick thoughts:
- Left wing vs right wing? Yeah, I don’t think it made a big difference.
- Alex will be 29 this year and unofficially exiting his prime scoring years; we’ll need to deal with that reality like people who aren’t entitled jerks.
- Ovi is from Russia, which is not in North America, and he therefore places different cultural value on international tournaments. This is an okay thing and not cause to harass him online.
- If you play the way a coach asks you to play and then you play less well, you are not a coach-killer. You are merely a weapon with which a coach killed himself.
- Ovi played 93 percent of the Caps’ power play time this season. During the power play, you cannot earn a plus; you can earn only a minus. Being a PP expert means you’re more likely to get burned by the stat.
- Alex Ovechkin scored 51 goals.
Ovi on RMNB
Here we go.
- Hitting 50 goals for the 5th time. On the power play. Obviously.
- The Jay Beagle fiasco. SMH.
- Talking plus-minus and your stupid face. Even Ovi chimed in with his own thoughts on the dreaded +/-.
- DC Hat Trick. It’s a tradition. A freaking institution.
- Please do not shoot Instagram videos in your car. And, in general, just don’t even ride in a car with Ovi. Pro-tips. There is a lot of evidence of this. Even Grabo was terrified.
- “It started snowing in Washington, and I skidded, lost control. The car was just spinning. It’s a very unpleasant feeling when you lose control of the situation and about to crash into some concrete pillar.” SOMEONE DO SOMETHING.
- Alex Ovechkin entered a raffle to meet Alex Ovechkin. He lost.
- When Alex Ovechkin scored his 800th career point, Adam Oates cracked, “that’s not a milestone.” Haha, good joke, unemployed guy.
- “I was today worst player.” Ovi’s best critic is not on NBC.
- Click through on this one. It’s like 5 GIFs documenting how Ovi hoisted the whole team on his back and won a game. Gripping stuff.
- Actually, there’s a lot of these last-minute, game-changing goals. It was a thing.
- Just a four-point night. No big.
- Just a four-goal night. No big. Except for the ringtone. That was big.
- Setting up Tom Wilson’s first NHL goal. This is basically that scene from Sandlot where Benny tells Smalls to put his glove up in the air.
- Dude slashes away Ovi’s stick. No whistle, so Ovi picks it back up and scores immediately.
- Meeting Jack Jablonski. Awesome.
- How Not to Defend Ovi. I hope no other teams read this or else Ian has some ‘splainin’ to do.
- No big deal, just watching Katniss kill some kids next to Alex Ovechkin. Maybe later I’ll watch TFIOS with Bradley Beal.
- Marty McSorley: “all hype.” Ron MacLean: “specialty act.”
- A big driver of the stuff McSorley and MacLean were talking about was the low shooting percentage of Ovi’s teammates, but I bet they didn’t know that.
Pics with Chick Fil-a cow. Can you even? Because I can’t even.
Can we talk about Ovi’s push-up form? Any personal trainers in the audience?
It doesn’t get any more JOKES than this. Eat your hearts out, jokesters.
How much responsibility does Ovi bear for missing the playoffs? What do you think Ovi under Trotz will look like? Who would you like to see next to Ovi on the top line? What’s Ovi’s biggest tactical problem during 5v5 play?
Read more: Japers Rink