Through the first four games of the 2014-15 season, it seemed like our Great Ovechkin Overreaction was over.
He had five goals and one assist in that span. Five games later, Ovechkin has … five goals and one assist.
His Washington Capitals lost to the Detroit Red Wings 4-2 on Wednesday night, and while people took a moment to praise another late-game surge from Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, some pundits could not resist getting their shots in on Ovechkin.
For those who drafted him with their first-round pick, I can totally understand your frustration and I’ve absolutely been there. This is now the longest slump of his NHL career, which is the sort of thing that would normally draw some praise. (Example: “Wow, it took Ovechkin 10 seasons to have a five-game drought.”)
Alas, instead we get to hear about sticktoitiveness and “hockey IQ” once again. Rinse, repeat.
How worried should Ovechkin owners really be, though? Let’s take a look at some of the numbers beyond “zero goals, zero assists in five games” and see if we should be concerned about The Great 8.
MOSTLY BAD LUCK
Confining research to this five-game slump, Ovechkin’s possession numbers have been just fine.
The biggest concern, for me, was in an area where Ovechkin is normally unrivaled: shots on goal. For the first four games of his slump, the 29-year-old only had seven SOG combined. Compare that to 24 SOG in his first four games and one almost feels obliged to make up an injury rumor.
Despite the -2 rating last night, Ovechkin's stats should be more uplifting: he fired seven shots on goal and also missed three more. During his entire slump, he has 14 SOG and 11 missed shots. So 25 SOG/missed shots (feel free to count the blocked shots too if you need some busy work) in five games isn’t so bad, really. It’s not up to Ovechkin’s voluminous standards, but it’s not like he’s wearing boxing gloves out there, either.
While he had 24 SOG and 14 missed shots in the previous four games, it's not as if he's suddenly gunshy.
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It mainly seems like he’s just had some bad luck. The best manifestation of that lack of positive bounces came in the third period of Saturday’s win against Calgary: Ovechkin had two sticks break on him as he was winding up for what looked like some wicked opportunities.
(I feel like uber-brat-era Barry Bonds would fire an entire training staff if his batting equipment failed him like Ovi’s sticks did that night.)
NOT SO EMPOWERED?
One thing to keep an eye on is his power-play deployment, though.
Barry Trotz has said that he wants to reduce Ovechkin's man advantage time at least a bit, which would either rank as inane (if a bit is actually a substantial drop) or reasonable (if it means cutting down on flubbery time like if the Capitals simply are in the midst of a dud of a PP in which they can't even gain entry to the offensive zone). So far, he’s swaying in both directions enough to at least cause subtle concern for those of us who probably think about these things too much.
(People like me, yes.)
Keeping in mind that PP TOI numbers can be influenced by power-play opportunities/etc., Ovechkin is averaging 3:40 PP TOI per game so far. Troy Brouwer, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson are essentially locked even with each other in the 3:07-3:12 range. For most players, those numbers would be promising, if not the source of gleeful cackles … but Ovechkin’s a pretty unique PP beast.
Last season, Ovechkin averaged 5:02 per game (!) and, friends, did he ever feast on that man advantage. His 24 power-play goals dwarfed over second-place finisher Joe Pavelski. His 39 power-play points were second only to his teammate Nicklas Backstrom, who piled up a ridiculous 38 helpers on the man advantage. Much like a dude using the “yawn and put your arm in the air and then around his date” move every time, it’s probably true that Ovechkin leaned on the power play too much under Oates … but he still produces like a madman.
It's obviously crazy early, but the impression is that Trotz might be slightly bad for Ovechkin merely by shifting some of the power-play balance. But is that bad for the Capitals?
SOME METHOD TO THE MADNESS
See the bottom section of this column for the nitty gritty details for how I got to this point, but so far, I feel like the Capitals are still creating a bunch of chances on the PP, even with some of Ovechkin’s reps spread around. It makes it difficult to get too irritated by the strategy, unless you’re an Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom owner.
Obviously this is a really small sample size, yet it makes a decent argument in favor of Trotz’s feeling that a more communal man advantage can work. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the team invested in Matt Niskanen while Mike Green is in Contract Year Mode, either.
Anyway, the largest concern is just if Trotz is bad for Ovechkin’s stats.
I’ll say this: I don’t expect him to maximize Ovechkin’s potential. My feeling is that even the most clueless coach can only mess up Ovechkin’s production so much.
Granted, I feel like people are too eager to give Trotz the “he never had any stars” treatment without asking why the Predators produced quality forwards so rarely - other teams found and developed a decent number of scorers even without a ton of top 10 picks, after all - yet I’ll give the guy a chance to prove me wrong.
Ultimately, I’m not overly concerned with Ovechkin. If nothing else, Trotz is smart enough to put him at LW, generally try his best to stay out of his way and not throw an anchor on his line at the Jay Beagle level like Adam Oates seemed insistent upon doing. The Capitals seem like they’ll be a better (and far less depressing) team than recent years, which rarely hurts.
This exercise has dampened my excitement for a full-on revival of Ovechkin, 90-100-point scorer, yet it’s not totally out of the question. It would help if Ovechkin at least gets to the, say, 4:15-4:30 PP TOI range, though.
Evander Kane could return soon, possibly even on Thursday night. Here’s hoping a little luck rolls his way, even if luck means “getting traded somewhere he’d be happier and more lucrative to fantasy owners.” Just saying … If you’re the frequent add/dropping type, why not give Justin Abdelkader a shot? He’s worthwhile even if he’s just getting baby-birded by Pavel Datsyuk and/or Henrik Zetterberg while Johan Franzen deals with his millionth injury … Matt Cullen and Derek Roy aren’t the sexiest linemates one can have, but they’re not chopped liver, either. Craig Smith (19 percent owned) is worth watch-listing after coming off a two-goal Wednesday, not to mention his 24-goal, 52-point breakout in 2014. That said, Filip Forsberg (47 percent owned) is the sexier Nashville choice. He has the almost-unfair distinction of LW-C-RW status and plays with James Neal and Mike Ribeiro. Oh, and he's producing solidly, too ... Don't be shocked if Edmonton is erratic for the next month-and-a-half. Saturday ends their promising homestand. After that, it's five straight road games. Then five consecutive home games. Then four of five on the road and six of eight away from Edmonton. The schedule makers must have been charting for maximum drama with this team, as it's a pretty steady running theme through the Oilers' schedule, honestly.
BORING CAPITALS POWER PLAY NUMBER-CRUNCHING
I don't really love looking at sheer production alone for power plays, although I will factor that in a bit. (Numbers via stats.hockeyanalysis.com)
So far this season, the Capitals have 44:32 power-play time on ice. They've scored 8 goals while allowing zero. They have 44 shots and 8 against, 87 corsi events for and 13 against and a league-leading 117.2 Corsi For/per 60 minutes. (What that latter stat means, to me, is that they're creating the most chances for their given opportunities. I feel like this might correct a bit for teams getting more opportunities, such as the Blackhawks and their 63:09 power-play time on ice.)
Last season, the Capitals scored 67 power-play goals and generated a 107.8 Corsi For/per 60, second only to the San Jose Sharks (who remarkably maintained a 117.8 pace for a full 82 games ... my goodness).
It’s very early on, yet it doesn’t seem like the Capitals have slipped on the PP, even with less Ovechkin. Maybe they’re not making as many obvious “get it to Ovechkin at all costs”-type passes, maybe it’s just luck. Still, as I said earlier in this column, I’d recommend upping his reps by about 45 seconds to a minute in an ideal scenario.
Simply put, getting him more room to unleash that lethal shot means more chances for easy goals, which could be that much more fruitful if Trotz can help the Capitals become good-to-great at even-strength and on the PK.
Quick correction on Wednesday’s Dose: A commenter pointed out that Leon Draisaitl linemates have most commonly been Teddy Purcell and David Perron, which is accurate so far. He doesn’t have fantasy value at this point, so it’s not a huge deal, but I’ll make sure to get that right if he does start to creep up in 2014-15. Apologies for any confusion there.
(Again, I don’t think he’ll be too relevant until next season regardless, though stranger things have happened.)