Is there any basis to the argument against Alexander Ovechkin being some sort of playoff never-was? In part 2 I discussed Ovechkin’s effect on the outcome of career playoff elimination games overall. What about elimination games where he goes scoreless? When the team has to fend for itself, shouldn’t that be a telling stat?
The Great Eight was held scoreless in 11 of 29 elimination games or 38%, compared to 36% (20 of 55) in non-elimination games, so not much change at all. He’s actually remarkably consistent. As is the trend, when he goes scoreless with the series on the line, the Caps as a team are a pathetic 3-8 (0.272%). When Ovie does get a point, the record jumps to a much more respectable 9-9(.500).
So a natural conclusion is Ovechkin contributes the most to team wins and the rest of the players don’t offer support when he needs it.
Curiously, in the 11 games with Ovechkin off the scoresheet, he played between 17-20 minutes in two of them. The team was 1-1 (.500). He played over 20 minutes eight times and the record went down to 2-6 (.250). Going the other way, he played under 17 minutes (16:25) in a pointless game 7, with overtime no less, and guess what? The boys took it. So the Caps are 2-1 in elimination games where Ovechkin is held pointless AND plays under 20 minutes.
In his playoff career Ovechkin was only held scoreless 31 times. He’s proven himself very reliable over and over again in all situations. But overall where Ovechkin is held without a point and plays less than 17 minutes, the team wins 100% of the time(2-0). If he plays under 20 they win 70% of the time(7-3). When he plays 20 minutes or more and doesn’t figure in the scoring, the team wins just 22%(4-18).
In game 7s, same thing. 9 games, 3-6 record. 3G, 3A, 6P. Yet 5 of those points came in the 6 losses. 1 assist came in the 3 wins. In the three wins he had ice times of 21:24, 16:52, and an incredibly low 16:25 in an OT game, for an average of 18:13. In 4 of 6 regulation losses his average was 25:06(in the 2 OT losses he had 23:40 and 21:47).
So am I saying the Capitals are better off without Ovechkin? Absolutely not. Over his career, he scores more when he plays more. That should be obvious. But it isn’t. That’s what makes this so interesting to me. Not every player does. Look at it like income tax. If you work more hours you should make more money. That’s a no-brainer theory. But once you hit a certain number of hours per week the tax man takes a higher chunk and the return for the extra hours is negated. For hockey players it’s the same thing. Most get to a point where there’s really nothing more they can do, especially in the 23-25 minute range. Ovechkin is a freak in that he doesn’t seem to have that point. As we’ve seen, he’s going to produce proportionately the same in relation to his ice time. No one in the universe is as consistent at anything as he is at scoring.
In regular season play he’s had 50 goal seasons taking as many as 528 shots AND as few as 368 shots. He’s had a shooting percentage of 11.7 and 14.6 in all but two seasons (when he still had 10.6 and 8.7). He’s had 50 goal and 100+ point seasons while averaging anywhere from 23:06 TOI a season to 20:19.
He’s had different team mates and 5 different coaches, yet he doesn’t waiver. All of these stats and factors are why this topic is such a contested debate. Capitals fans are basing their stance on solid statistical evidence. There are some other noteable stats though.
Under Bruce Boudreau, Ovechkin and the Capitals won 4 division titles in 4 years. In season 1 Ovie had 65 G, 112P with 23:06 TOI and 446 shots. In season 2 he had 56 G, 110P with 23:00 even and 528 shots. His playoff ice time was slightly higher and the sickening trend of 7 game series began.
Then something amazing happened. In season 3, Boudreau decreased Ovie’s regular season ice time to an average of 21:48. Playing less and taking only 368 shots, Ovechkin true to form still pulled through with 50G and 109P. But he also increased from a +8 to a +45. The team went from goal differentials of +16 and +27 to an unimaginable +85! They picked themselves up a President’s Trophy for their troubles.
Yet for some reason in the playoffs, Ovechkin’s ice time shot up to over 23:00 average in the post season. In that upsetting 2010 first round loss, through games 1-4 Ovechkin averaged 21:57, or exactly 9 seconds more than his President’s Trophy winning regular season average. He had 4G, 4A, 8P (scoreless only in the loss), and the team had 19 total goals for, finding themselves rolling up 3-1. Everything should have stayed the same. It worked for 86 games.
For some inexplicable reason, in the three regulation losses that followed, Ovechkin played well above average time at 24:47, 25:34, and 23:35. He had 1G and 1A in these games but his team only scored 3 goals total and gave up a brutal 8 goals against. When he played 21:00 or less, his team mates provided 15 goals in support of the 4 he contributed over 4 games. When he played over 23:00, well above, his team provided just 2 goals over 3 games.
But that’s just one fluke year, right?
Well, the next season Boudreau lowered Ovechkin’s regular season ice time down even further, to a 21:22 average. Ovechkin himself had an off year, scoring 32G. He still had 85 points which is amazing. He ended a terrific +24 on a team that scored 219 goals for, or almost 100 goals less than the previous year. But the team also improved significantly for the second year in a row in goals against average, going from 16 in the previous season all the way up to 8th for a differential of +28, still better as a team than they had the year Ovechkin scored 65 goals himself.
So under Boudreau, Oveckhin’s ice time had a profound influence on the team overall in both the regular season and playoffs. But did it affect actual individual team mates? Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin are two examples.
In the seasons Ovechkin averaged over 23 minutes (07-08 and 08-09), Backstrom had 18:00 and 19:57. With the two minute increase he went from 14 G and 69P to 22G and 88P. That’s to be expected by most. But what isn’t expected is in 09-10, when Ovechkin was reduced to 21:48, Backstrom only increased slightly to just over 20:00 but chipped in with 33G and 101P.
Semin played 16:58 in 07-08 (26G, 42P) and bumped up in all categories to 19:14 in 08-09 (34G, 79P). The year Ovechkin dropped 2 minutes, Semin actually dropped down to 19:07 and still increased to 40G and 84P.
Both of these players paid off huge when ice time was spread more evenly. So did Brooks Laich, Matt Matt Bradley, and Eric Fehr to name a few others.
But in the 2011 playoffs, Ovechkin’s ice was increased again, this time even higher to 23:30. A second round sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning was the result.
Is this Ovechkin’s fault? Not particularly. There’s a reason Boudreau is called the greatest regular season coach. With no playoff success in 4 tries, Boudreau was fired the next November. But it does show that Ovechkin on paper did have statistically supporting players and a very good coach available to him at points during his career.
Enter Dale Hunter. Capitals fans have a strong dislike of his coaching style, and with good reason. The game he liked to play was somehow both boring and risky all at the same time. He decreased Ovechkin’s ice time to the lowest regular season average of his career, at 19:48. Number 8 did increase to 38 goals on just 303 shots, but had just 65 points. The team goal differential slipped to -8. Hunter got a bit out of Ovechkin, but he didn’t get anything out of anyone else. But it was still good enough for 2nd in the division and a playoff berth.
In the playoffs though, Hunter did something unheard of. He decreased Ovechkin’s ice time almost from the well over 23:00 standard to 19:51 on average. Find out what happened in Part 4 tomorrow!