This is part 4 of a 5 article series discussing whether the lack of playoff success by the Washington Captials can be blamed on Alexander Ovechkin. ( Part 1 )( Part 2 )( Part 3)(Part 5 )

In Part 3 I showed how Ovechkin’s ice time directly impacts the performance of others on the roster. I also ended by introducing the topic of ice time distribution from the different coaches he’s had.

Continuing with that, let’s talk about Dale Hunter’s reign in 2011-2012 and dispel one rumour.  Even many die hard Capitals fans erroneously believe Hunter was the only coach who significantly cut Ovechkin’s ice time. Others may also say Oates did, but no one ever mentions how Bruce Boudreau started the trend in the 2009-2010 President’s Trophy season, and no one mentions how his average ice time has never really gone up since then, even today.

Remember, until November 28, 2011 Boudreau was still coaching. And he was actually doing some coaching.  The team started the year on a record 7 game win streak, but Ovechkin (and Semin) were struggling individually.  In games 1 and 2, Ovechkin played 20:38 and 21:47 but uncharacteristically had only had 5 total shots, 1 assist, and was a -2. Boudreau cut his ice down to under 19 minutes for the next 5 games. Ovechkin ended the 7-0 start with 7 points and was a +/- of even.

However, the Caps lost 2 in a row after that.What happened next could have been a defining moment in the season, but it didn’t pan out that way.  Down 4-3 to Anaheim, Boudreau chose to play the line of Joel Ward, Jason Chimera, and Brooks Laich in the final minute.  Nicklas Backstrom was the extra attacker, and he scored to force overtime.  He also happened to score the OT winner (which Ovechkin gamely assisted on).  The entire season was never the same after that.

Semin was also benched at one point, by Boudreau. Ovechkin had three major incidents looked at by the NHL Department Of Player Safety and was eventually suspended just before the All-Star Break.

There were obvious signs of frustration and turmoil from day 1, not just with Hunter. Boudreau was fired on November 28th, and Ovechkin’s ice time….increasedWhere under Boudreau in 22 games Ovechkin played over 20:00 5 times (22%), under Hunter Ovechkin actually played well over 20:00 30 times (50%). He even had a stretch of 8 goals in 9 games.

Everyone goes on about how Ovechkin struggled and was held back for his lowest career time on ice average, goals, points, and plus/minus to that point.  It’s all Hunter’s fault, so we can blame him for the playoffs that year. There is absolutely no statistical evidence to support this claim. 

While Boudreau was still coaching, Ovechkin had 17P in 22 games( 0.77PPG). 8 of those points were goals (0.36GPG). Under Hunter, he had 48 points in 56 games for an increase to 0.86PPG. More importantly, he also had 30 goals which is a dramatic increase to 0.54 goals per game.  Over 82 games that pace would have been good for 44 goals and 71 points.

Ovechkin is a proven thriver though. He really is, no sarcasm intended. If you give him any room he’ll find a way to capitalize despite poor coaching.  So what about those other guys who hold him back year after year. Did they have the coping skills?

Semin had only 10 points under Boudreau, yet ended with 54 points. How? An increase to 44 points in 55 games (0.8PPG).

Backstrom had 26 points under Boudreau.  I guess that’s why he was the only one of the three who didn’t get benched.  His season total can’t be taken into account because he was injured for most of it, but it’s interesting that maybe Boudreau had a point about those two, and it’s extra interesting that Hunter held no one back with his style.

Even if you break it down by month under Hunter, there’s no huge streak to skew the totals.  Ovie had 13 points in 14 December games, 8 in 10 in January, 10 in 12 in February, 14 in 16 in March, and 2 in 3 in April. Again, kudos to him for being remarkably consistent. Semin was equally so.

Still the season wasn’t necessarily a roaring success. But it’s not fair to call it a failed write off either. Jay Beagle missed 31 games with a concussion. Backstrom was out for 40 games with a concussion of his own. Starting goalie Tomas Vokoun was in and out with injuries all year and ended his own season in March. Mike Greene missed 23 games early in the year and then re-injured himself in his second game back, missing a total of 51 games.

None of this is Hunter’s fault. He wasn’t the right fit for the team I don’t think, but he didn’t do half of what he’s accused of.  Ovechkin on the other hand was benched early in the regular season by one coach, then benched twice in the playoffs by the other. I ask, were they both wrong about him in the same season?

Even with injuries, all three star players consistently taking untimely penalties, and the defense first philosophy, the Caps as a team were one game away from winning a 5th straight division championship. They were also 10 games over .500. They were an incredible 26-11-4 at home! People look at the 7th seed as an indicator they weren’t as good, but Florida won their last game of the year to edge them out of 3rd seed

Where Hunter did break ground was to keep Ovechkin’s ice time to under 20:00 average in the 2012 playoffs. In round 1, they beat the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins in 7 games. Ovechkin averaged 19:39 in the series. He played 17:01 in three of the wins and played 20:29 and 22:34 in two of the losses. the 22:34 was an OT loss, so you may say the stats are skewed, but keep in mind game 1 was also an OT loss and in it he only played 17:34.

Notably, in game 4 when facing a potential 3-1 series deficit and Nicklas Backstrom serving a one game suspension, Ovechkin only played 17:01 in the 2-1 victory. A bold(stupid?) move by Hunter that paid off.  Yes, the Caps were being outshot in the series, but they took it anyway even with Ovechkin only scoring 2 of the team’s 15 goals. This was the first series in NHL history that every game was decided by one goal.

In round 2 they lost by 1 goal in a game 7 against the top seeded Rangers. Game 4 was again notable as Ovechkin was benched for most of the third period in a Washington victory.

In game 1 Ovechkin got what he wanted, playing 21:03 in a regulation loss. He went -1 on a pointless night, the Caps gave up 2 goals in 1:30 and the game was over just like that.  In game 2, Ovechkin played just 13:36. The Caps had a 2-0 lead and control before the Rangers came back in the third to tie. Ovechkin himself sealed the victory on the power play.

The whole series was the same way.

But Brayden Holtby had a ridiculous 1.95 GAA and 0.93 save percentage. If Hunter hadn’t had such a crap system Ovechkin wouldn’t have struggled! If the team had scored to help Holtby out more, they would have won!  THE TEAM, you say, or Ovechkin?

I pulled out the career stats of Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and Laich. I put everyone else under “Rest Of Team”. So breaking it down by playoff year:

In 2007-2008, Oveckin had an average of 0.57 goals per game (GPG), and 1.28 points per game(PPG). In 08-09, he had 0.78GPG and 1.5PPG. In 09-10, 0.71GPG, 1.42PPG.  In 10-11, 0.55GPG, 1.11PPG.  The guy has always been on fire.

In the first round  of 2011-2012 however, Ovechkin managed 0.28GPG and 0.71PPG. In the second round, when they ultimately lost, he was even worse at .28GPG and 0.57PPG.

Of course, he only averaged 19:39 of ice time in the first round and 20:02 in the second round. And everyone else struggled too! It was Hunter!

Backstrom: 2007-08, 0.85PPG. 08-09, 1.07PPG. 09-10, 1.28PPG. 10-11, 0.22PPG.

Semin: 2007-08,  1.14PPG, 08-09, 1.0PPG, 09-10, .28PPG, 10-11, 0.67PPG.

Laich: 2007-08, 0.85PPG. 08-09, 0.5PPG, 09-10, 0.42PPG, 10-11, 0.77PPG.

The points per game average of all four of those players combined in their playoff careers:

2007-08, 1.03PPG. 08-09, 1.02PPG. 09-10, 0.85PPG. 10-11, 0.69PPG.

The combined points per game average of the rest of the roster per playoffs is:

2007-08, 3.85PPG. 08-09, 4.0PPG. 09-10, 5.0PPG. 10-11, 3.88PPG.

Now in 2011-2012, here are the player performance stats.

Ovechkin as we know was well below average at 0.64PPG. This was his first playoff ever under 1.0 points per game. The guy is a stud. Usually.

Semin was well below average too, at 0.28PPG. His worst since 09-10.

Backstrom, again, the only one of the big three who wasn’t benched, was just slightly under average at 0.57PPG. This is a little drop from his regular career totals but proportionately to his drop in regular season points from career to 2011-2012 it was very similar. Ovechkin and Semin dropped only marginally in the regular season (in the Hunter half) but basically disappeared in the playoffs relative to their regular standards.

Laich, was pretty much spot on at 0.5PPG.

The big 4 combined were down from a career 0.89PPG to 0.5PPG over the 2 rounds.

With all that defence and the scoring chances at a huge minimum, if the two top scorers couldn’t get it done with the few chances they had, how could anyone else survive?

For the 2011-2012 playoffs, Rest Of Team held par. With 3.35PPG, the roster players as a whole only very marginally decreased. And that’s just points. If you separate the most important thing, goals, it’s even less dramatic.

Laich was exactly his career average with 2.0GPG, Backstrom himself was on the higher end of his average at .42GPG, and Rest Of Team, those secondary scorers and depth guys who everyone likes to blame, were just under the 1.33 GPG career average by checking in at 1.21.

Ovechkin and Semin, on the other hand, were atrocious.

Ovechkin has never been under 0.57GPG in a playoff year.  He had 4 goals and 5 goals in the playoffs before…in 7 games. He had just 5 goals in 14 games in 2011-2012.

Semin had 3 goals in 14 games.

Backstrom, for his part, had 6 goals in 13 games.

In looking at the 2011-2012 season and playoffs from afar, it looks like Dale Hunter decreased Ovechkin’s ice time drastically and ultimately cost his team too much offense. But what I see is a season that started with player resentment and disarray stemming from the discipline Bruce Boudreau tried to initiate.

I think these stats prove three things:

1)The team is able to stay afloat and make the second round without the consistency of Ovechkin. As a unit they didn’t score any less AND they held two of the higher teams to just 30 goals over 14 games. Admittedly, Brayden Holtby was a large part of that to be sure.

2)This also proves beyond a doubt that as I said, in order to succeed, the Capitals NEED Ovechkin and overall he should play around 19:00-21:00 as opposed to 15:00-17:00, but also as opposed to 23:00-24:00.

3)Contrary to one of the biggest excuses used by Caps fans during the span of 2011-2014, Dale Hunter didn’t lose the 2011-2012 playoffs. Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin were the only two that choked.

Check in for the 5th and final installment tomorrow evening, where I go over every playoff year and determine once and for all what was at fault for each.

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