It seems like for a few years now, people have been asking themselves “what’s wrong with Alex Ovechkin?”
This is a guy who scored 45+ goals for five straight seasons and 50+ goals in four of those five. He has now scored under 40 for two straight years and is goalless through the first three games of this season.
There have been numerous positions on this subject from everyone across the hockey spectrum. These posits range from teams have him “figured out” to the coaches aren’t “using him right” and so on and so on…
After looking into it a bit (this conversation came up on Twitter and curiosity finally got the best of me), there are two things I found can readily explain his “decline” over the last couple of years:
- He has to shoot the puck. He is not a passer, he was his most effective when he was scoring more goals than he was assisting on. I’ll demonstrate why this is the case
- His team has been drawing less penalties, taking him out of his bread-and-butter zone, the power-play.
I had long thought the relation between his shot and goal rates was fairly linear, and it is:
We see similar trends in many of the years, notably: 2005-2006, 2006-2007 and 2009-2010. The variance in the other years can be explained with his shooting percentage rates:
|05/06 – 12.2|
|06/07 – 11.7|
|07/08 – 14.6|
|08/09 – 10.6|
|09/10 – 13.6|
|10/11 – 8.7|
|11/12 – 12.5|
You see how a high shooting percentage like in ’07-’08 can greatly alter your final goal total (he had 65) and a low shooting percentage can decimate it; He had 33 less goals in ’10-’11 comapred to that ’07-’08 despite taking just 80 less shots.
So that is a nuts and bolts explanation of my first conclusion. When it comes down to it, Ovechkin just isn’t shooting enough. If Ovechkin were to shoot his career average (5.11 shots/game) and shoot at his career shooting percentage of 11.9%, he would score 29 goals this year or push for 50 goals in a normal season. That is the Ovechkin we have come to know. If he wants to mitigate at least some of the variance in his shooting percentage – and if he shot 5.11 shots/game last year he could have had 50 goals, instead of the 38 he ended up with – he needs to shoot a whole lot more than he is. As of right now, he’s averaging 3.67 shots/game in this shortened season, what would be a career-worst.
This brings me to conclusion number two: his team has not been drawing enough penalties.
|Washington PP Opportunities||League Average|
Ovechkin’s power-play time has been consistently declining for 6 years now (I’ll concede it’s still too early to really reach any conclusion about this year). This is directly a result of his team not drawing as many penalties. The league average for power-play opportunities declined four straight years from 2007-2011, so that is a part of it.
However, in any season from 2007-2010, the Capitals never drew any less than 5 total penalties less than the league average. In 2010-2011? They drew 28 less penalties than the league average. For a player that has over 100 power-play goals since the 2004-2005 lockout, that was a death-knell. It shouldn’t be any surprise then that Ovechkin scored a career-worst seven PP goals in 2010-2011 after scoring no less than 13 in any season previous to that and getting over 20 PP goals twice. Also, it should be noted, Ovechkin had his worst power-play shooting percentage of the last three years that season as well.
How did they do last year? They were fourth-worst in drawing penalties. If Ovechkin hadn’t shot his 12.6% on power-plays like he did last year (and he shot more often), he likely wouldn’t have cracked the double-digit goal mark on the power-play.
|Time On Ice/Game||Power-Play Time On Ice/Game|
Obviously, this is a bit more nuanced than straight-forward shooting and drawing penalties. The game has changed over the last six or seven years to a more East-West game (cross-crease passes and passes through lanes) and a premium has been placed on shot-blocking.
But, like I showed, he needs to shoot more and his team needs to draw more penalties. He has gone from averaging over 6.5 shots/game in 2008-2009 to less than 3.75 shots/game now. Also, his team can’t go from drawing 3% more penalties than the league average as they did 2009-2010, to drawing 10% less penalties than the league average last year. It will spell disaster for a player who was once the most electrifying hockey player on the planet.