Some hockey pundits wondered whether Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin would see a drop off in his motivation and performance after a summer of partying after winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in his 13-year NHL career. But the 33-year-old Conn Smythe Trophy winner silenced those skeptics with his best season in years, leading the NHL with 51 goals and topping his team with 89 points in 81 regular-season games. NoVa Caps takes a look at Ovechkin’s remarkable season after winning the Cup. Ovechkin learned during the Capitals’ Stanley Cup run that it he can use his reputation as a shooter to his advantage by finding teammates who find themselves wide open when defenses overplay Ovi. His 338 shots on goal this past year were the third-lowest in a non-lockout season of his NHL career. Changing up his game boosted Ovechkin’s shooting percentage to a career-high of 15.1%, topping his previous best by .5%. He took 17 fewer shots than the previous season but was 1.3% more accurate with his shot.
Ovechkin also relied less on the power-play to score goals this past season. His 33 even-strength goals in 2018-19 were the highest mark since he recorded 37 in the 2009-10 season when he was 24-years old. Ovechkin’s 28 assists at even-strength were the most that he has recorded since the 2010-11 season when he hit 36. Prior to the 2017-18 season, he only hit the 30-assist plateau once, recording 53 helpers in 2010-11.
Defensively, Ovechkin’s 41 blocked shots this past season were 20 more than he had in the previous year and marked only the third time in his career he had more than 40, the first since 2011-12 when he had 42.
His 223 hits last season were his highest since the 2015-16 season when he posted 225 and was 84 more than his hit total from the previous year.
After recording at least 60 takeaways in each of his first three NHL seasons and hitting 48 the next, Ovechkin never got past 45 in the next six seasons and hit that mark only once until this past season. His 47 takeaways this past year were his highest in a single season since he was credited with 48 in 2010-11.
Ovechkin’s 70 giveaways were his second-highest (71 in 2017-18) since he had 75 in 2010-11, partially as a result of his increased ice-time this past season. In addition, his +7 rating was the highest since he had one of +21 in 2015-16.
His average of 20:55 worth of ice-time per game last year was the most since he averaged 21:22 in 2010-11 when he was 25.
His power-play production has not really changed in the past four seasons as he has hit between 17-19 in each of those years, including 18 this past season. His 10 assists on the power-play tied the third-lowest mark in that category in his career. Ovechkin has not had more than 15 power-play assists since 2013-14.
Ovechkin’s Corsi-for percentage (shots + blocks + misses vs. against) of 49.1% at even strength last season was his lowest since he recorded a percentage of 48.9% in the lockout year. His Fenwick-for percentage (shots + blocks vs. against) of 48.9% this past season was also his lowest since he finished the 2012-13 season with 48.2%.
After seeing the effort that Ovechkin made to commit to defense during the Capitals’ Stanley Cup run, head coach Todd Reirden rewarded him with more defensive responsibility as Ovechkin’s 43.1% of his zone starts came in the defensive zone last season, the second-highest percentage of defensive zone starts he has had since 2013-14 (47.9% in 2015-16) and his highest in the past three seasons.
Ovechkin also had more of a positive team impact when he was on the ice this season. The Capitals scored 91 of their goals at even-strength when Ovechkin was on the ice this season, the highest since his rookie year (94). The team’s 12.9% shooting percentage with Ovechkin on the ice at even strength was the highest rate that they’ve ever shot since he joined the NHL. However, the Capitals’ 80 goals-against and .892 save percentage when Ovechkin was on the ice last season were also the lowest since he came into the league.
Instead of dampening Ovechkin’s motivation, winning the Stanley Cup only increased his appetite to win again. He stepped up his pace in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, tying the team lead in assists (five) and leading in points (nine). Ovechkin was also quick on the backcheck, sacrificed his body, and committed to the team game more after seeing what doing those things could result in in the Spring of 2018. There was clearly more freedom in his game, too. In the past, Ovechkin would get the blame for the Capitals’ Stanley Cup Playoff failures, but he was arguably the team’s best player in their seven-game series loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the First Round last April.
After many believed that Ovechkin would decline this year after finally claiming the Stanley Cup last year, he only improved. Some of his stats dropped compared to previous years but ridding himself of the “best player to never win a Cup” label let him play his game and be enormously successful. The fact that Ovechkin ended the year by saying that he has “to be better” at breakdown day in April is music to the Capitals and their fans’ ears. Will he live up to that? We cannot wait to see what the new year holds.
By Harrison Brown