This is the conclusion of a 5 article series.
Over the past 4 articles (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)I’ve talked about how Alexander Ovechkin is an extremely remarkable individual playoff performer but for team success he needs to make some subtle changes having to do with his ice time patterns.
I’ve mentioned at length the arguments for playing Ovechkin all game every game and the reasons people give for not blaming him when the Caps hit the golf course every year.
Most of the avid Ovechkin defenders made their minds up 2-3 years ago not to blame him and their reasoning is sound.
In his first 37 playoff games(6 series) he was only held pointless 8 times (22%) and was never held pointless more than twice in the same series. This is even more incredible when you remember 4 of those 6 series went the full 7 games. The Capitals as a team were 2-4 in those rounds.
He averaged 1.0 points per game or better in every single one of these.
Since then though he’s played in 47 games over 7 series. He was held pointless in 23 of those (49%) and held pointless more than two times in 6 of the 7 series.
Since having a 1.0 points per game average in all of his first 6 series, he’s only had 1.0 points per game in ONE of the last 7, and that was the most recent one against Pittsburgh.
The Caps as a team were 3-5.
So overall he has 82 points in 84 playoff games and an even split of goals to assists (41, 41) making it seem like he’s the model of consistency. Yet digging deeper the stats show an obvious decline in consistent production. I’m not saying he still isn’t above average, but I’m saying don’t tell me the guy doesn’t falter sometimes. And maybe since you’ve made up your mind about him a few years ago you may have reason to revisit your stance.
In the series where he’s averaged 22:00 or more TOI per game, the Caps have a 2-5 record. With 20:00-22:00 they’re 1-3. When he averages less than 20:00 per game in a series, they’re 2-0.
When he averages 1.0 PPG or better in a series, Washington is 2-5 as well. When he averages 0.57 points per game or less the team is a dismal 0-4. But when he averages 0.71-0.83 PPG the boys are a perfect 3-0.
Alexander Ovechkin is the Goldilocks of the Stanley Cup Playoffs where everything has to be just right. If he plays too much and/or scores too much the team loses. It’s a statistical fact. If he plays not enough and scores not enough, they lose too.
All 5 series wins in Ovechkin history have come with him averaging between 0.71 – 1.2 PPG. So as I’ve been saying he needs to play somewhere between 19:00-21:00 per game to play enough to hit his ideal point range but still allow his team to support him. This shows up time and time again.
I’ve shown this week that the team loses when he plays more. It’s consistent for all games. It’s consistent for elimination games. It’s consistent for game 7’s. I’ve proven it for every situation.
Now, the common retort is that of course they lose when he plays more because they play him the most when they need a goal. The stats are skewed because he gets more ice time in situations where they’re already losing. That’s fair. So I looked into it.
What I discovered is that being down after two periods in the playoffs is an absolute dagger to the Ovechkin era Washington Capitals.
They faced this situation 26 times out of 84 games and came back to win just 4 of them (15%).
Now, to be objective and fair, 11 of those were when they were down by 2 or more goals going into the final frame, and that’s hard for anybody.
They did accomplish the feat once for a 1-10 record.
They were down by one goal after 40 minutes 15 times and have a 3-12 record to show for it. That’s an improvement to 20%. How that compares to the rest of the league I have no idea, but I’ll tell you this:
Overall when he plays 20 minutes or more the team comeback record is 1-20. When he plays less than 20:00 the Caps are 3-4. And to prove I’m not skewing it by adding in the times where they’re down by 2, the same thing happens with one goal deficits alone.
Less than 20:00, 3-3! 20:00 or more, 0-9. You can tell me that 3-3 isn’t necessarily a big enough sample to say whether they’d be .500 over a 50 game span, but you can’t tell me 0-20 in 20:00 plus games doesn’t tell you something.
The bottom line here is playing Ovechkin more in the the third period to try and come back only works when the inflated third periods still keep his overall total ice time down. Once he hits 21:00 or more and you’re down in the third, you may as well put Glenn Metropolit out there as Alexander Ovechkin.
That’s a bold statement but here’s something to back it up. For the 77 of his 84 playoff games since 2008 I broke his ice time down by period (I was unable to find the period by period breakdown for the 7 games of 2008).
Here’s what it reveals. Not surprisingly, when he plays a consistent, steady amount of time, the team has great success.
In games where he had a deviation of one minute or less of ice time from period to period, the Capitals were a fantastic 11-6. Of course, in 77 games this only happened 17 tantalizing times but the proof is in the pudding.
The best part? ALL ELEVEN WINS CAME WHEN HE PLAYED LESS THAN 20:00 overall. Just TWO of the losses where 20:00 or less. So in his playoff career, in cases where Ovechkin plays less than one minute variance from period to period AND totals less than 20:00 overall in the game, the Caps as a team are 11-2.
Also, in one minute or less variance and totalling more than 20:00, the Caps as a team are 0-4.
Before you look at the small number of 17 total games and scoff, look at the rest of the games.
So if that’s only 17 of 77 games, that means in 60 games he’s had a variance in ice time of greater than one minute from period to period. The Caps record overall: a pretty sad 25-35. That’s enough to tell you it’s not a good idea to be too inconsistent with his ice time.
Looking even deeper, it gets worse. 10 of those 25 wins are when even with the deviation, his total ice time remained under 20:00.
To be fair and objective again, it’s worth noting that 9 more of those 25 wins were when factors beyond his control such as significant powerplay time (greater than 3:00) or overtime pushed his total to over 20:00.
On the flip side, 4 of the 35 losses were in games where he played under 20:00, and 1 loss was in triple overtime so it’s unfair to use that as evidence against him playing more than 20:00.
So removing those uncharacteristic games, when Ovechkin averages over 20:00 of regulation ice time AND has a variance of more than 1:00 TOI between any period, the Capitals as a team stand at 6-30.
But that’s not fair either. He plays so much powerplay time that it’s impossible to balance his ice time. That’s what they say anyway. I don’t buy it, but I’ll play along.
Since you brought it up, I’ve got even worse news for you here.
Historically, the Capitals power play has been feared for one reason: Alexander Ovechkin. Based on the folklore you’d think that the more power play time they get, the more they score. With a trigger like him, it makes sense. He scores more when he plays more. So give him more time AND give him more powerplay time and it’s a sure win. Or it should be anyway.
It might then surprise you to know that in 17 games out of 84 the Washington Captials had 4:00 or more of power play time with Ovechkin, yet their overall record in those games is 9-8.
Here’s a fun fact: in games where the Caps had a minimum of 4:00 PP time AND Ovechkin plays 23:00 minutes or more in regulation, the poor bastards are an unthinkable 1-7. 1 win. 7 losses. Let that sink in. The greatest goal scorer in the galaxy has 23 or more minutes, and 4:00-10:00 of those are against 4 opponents. 1 win. 7 losses.
I think you see where this is going, but looking at the opposite, in games where they have 4:00-10:00 PP time AND Ovechkin totals under 23:00 TOI, the unstoppable bastards are 8-1. 8 wins. 1 loss.
I’ll tell you another little secret. In those games even with the skewed PP time he actually played not just less than 23:00 but less than….21:00 minutes total. 8 wins. 1 loss.
So the power play isn’t such a weapon when it’s best ammunition is bagged from his already high non-advantageous ice time.
In my opinion, the statistical information for shift length, period time on ice, overall time on ice, series average time on ice, team performance pending his time on ice, powerplay performance pending his time on ice, team ability to erase a deficit pending his time on ice, all conclusively point to one thing time and time again: Alexander Ovechkin needs to play consistently between 6:00-7:00 in any given period and total somewhere between 19:00-21:00 time on ice in any given game in order for the Capitals to have any playoff success.
Now, the answer to the question: is it fair to place blame on Ovechkin personally for team playoff failure? My answer is yes. Over the past 5 articles I’ve proven he hurts his team with his ice time, and I’ve proven the rest of the roster contributes consistently from playoff year to playoff year regardless. He’s the primary scorer for his team and I’ve proven he’s not as consistent as the general understanding let’s on. And I’ve proven he’s historically dismal in games where his team faced elimination.
While most of this falls on the coaches, a player knows himself best. The coach puts you on the ice, but as a player you know when you’re feeling it and when you’re not, and you have to have the discipline to pull yourself off. He tends to change on the way back from a rush as opposed to on the way out of his zone. Often this is because he forces an extra attack that may result in a token shot on goal but also keeps him on(and someone else off) for an extra 30-60 seconds a period. Some stars can get away with playing more. He clearly can not.
At the end of the day it’s not always Ovechkin’s fault but we have to stop surrounding him with some sort of bubble and pointing the finger everywhere else. He’s played his part in these playoff losses and the excuses made for him don’t hold water statistically.