For the past four years, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the league’s leading goal scorer, and each time, he’s done so with 50 or more goals. However, The Great Eight is on pace for his lowest goal total in five seasons and the burning question is why?Since entering the NHL in 2005-06, Ovechkin has been its best goal scorer and is arguably, the best of his generation. The 31-year old left wing has scored 50 or more goals seven times and been the Caps’ biggest weapon on the power play. But while his 26 goals, 25 assist, and 51 points in 56 games may seem impressive, the underlying numbers show that Ovechkin hasn’t been himself.
In 56 games played, Ovechkin is averaging only 0.48 goals per game, down from his previous three seasons, when he averaged 0.65, 0.63, and 0.65 respectively. His career average is 0.62 goals per game. His points per game, however, has actually increased from 0.90 last season to 0.91 this season. He’s on pace for just 38 goals, 37 assists, and a respectable 75 points. 38 goals would be his fewest goals in a full 82-game season in five years (he also scored 38 in 2011-12). So why the big difference?
The most likely explanation is that his low goals per game average is so low because of how spread out the Capitals’ offensive production has been. All four lines have been contributing offensively, taking less pressure off of Ovechkin to score. In years past, the main source of offense came from Ovechkin, who was relied upon on a nightly basis to score goals. He has accounted for just 13.5% of the team’s 192 goals scored this season. Another reason could be that he is averaging only 3.79 shots per game, down from his 5.04 shots per game last season despite having a shooting percentage of 12.3, just one point lower than his 12.4 career average. While it isn’t far from his career average of 4.96, it is a primary factor due to one simple rule: If you don’t shoot, you don’t score.
But Ovechkin has struggled defensively this season as well. He has a Corsi rating of 49.5 and the Capitals’ goaltenders have a below-average .907 save percentage when Ovechkin is on the ice. When one thinks about how well Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer have played this year, that number is troubling. Since Head Coach Barry Trotz took over, Ovechkin has rounded out his defensive game quite well. While he’ll likely never see penalty killing time, his defensive play has gotten better, which makes his Corsi rating and 31 giveaways to 22 takeaways much more worrisome.
While Ovechkin has been productive in terms of overall numbers, the decline in his per game production is a bit worrisome. While he is likely nowhere near the age when players start to decline offensively, it will be interesting to see if the Caps’ captain can improve those numbers over the final 26 games.
By Michael Fleetwood