Most players wouldn’t consider 85 points in 79 games a disappointment but most players aren’t Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin finished seventh in league scoring last season with 32 goals in 53 assists. Those were the lowest point totals of his NHL career. The 32-goal season was by far Ovechkin worst in that department. His previous season low was 46 goals in 2006-2007. His career high was 65 goals the following season. Compared to those staggering numbers, Ovechkin looked downright ordinary last season.
There was a lot of speculation about what was wrong with Ovechkin last year and many people pointed towards the Capitals new-found commitment to defense. One of those people is Neil Greenberg of the Capitals Insider blog at the Washington Post. In a recent blog post he asks “Is Alex Ovechkin an elite scorer or just a good shooter?”
Greenberg points out that Ovechkin has a lower shooting percentage than many of the NHL’s most prolific scorers. However, Ovechkin takes many most shots than most players, so he still manages to score a lot of goals. And we means a lot of goals. He’s scored the most NHL goals since the lockout.
So what’s the problem?
Ovechkin lags way behind his peers in terms of efficiency and is barely better than the average NHL forward over the past three years. Why is this important?
The Great Eight has seen his shots per game totals drop over the last few seasons, bringing his goals per game average down along with it. Fewer shots this year could mean fewer goals.
If the Capitals continue to play more of a balanced hockey style as opposed to their former run-and-gun ways, will Ovechkin’s goal total continue to be lower? Will he no longer be a perennial Rocket Richard Trophy candidate? Does that matter?
Alex Ovechkin has been a lightning rod for criticism over the past few years. We’ve all wondered if he’s getting fat, criticized his off-season activities, taken shots at his performances in international tournaments, questioned his attitude and much, much more.
Unfortunately, and perhaps unfairly, until Alex Ovechkin leads his team to a Stanley Cup championship, that criticism will continue. Even more unfortunately, the fact that he’s a Russian hockey player opens the door to comments about his work ethic, his dedication to winning as a team and the dreaded “enigmatic” label.But what does any of this mean for Ovechkin’s future? He’s apparently decided to become “more serious” this season and anyone who’s watched Ovechkin over the past few years will know that he certainly wants to win. If turning the Capitals into a more defensively-responsible team means that Ovechkin will take fewer shots, will he lead the team in that direction even if that means he won’t score as often? If last season is any indication, he will.
Last year he clearly decided that shooting whenever he could was a defensive liability so he stopped shooting – and scoring – as often. Everyone jumped all over him for it, but it may have been the right move.
Whether he’s scoring highlight reel goals or not, it’s hard to question the fact that he’s the Capitals’ best player on most nights. He’s already stockpiled more individual awards than most players could ever dream of. He’s an international star and a celebrity. He makes a lot of money. He doesn’t need to be on every highlight reel every night. We think he understands that now.
We doubt that he’d choose to score goals and face near-constant criticism about the Capitals postseason failures over winning a Stanley Cup.
Perhaps this is the year where we all start talking about “How Ovechkin has become a great leader” instead of “How Ovechkin isn’t as explosive as he used to be.”