Friday, April 19, 2013

A Note About Alex Ovechkin's "Resurgence"

Thus far, one of the most talked about stories of the shortened NHL season has been the resurgence of one Alex Ovechkin. Currently on pace to rival some of his gaudy goal totals from 2005-2010, the Great Eight has found twine 28 times in 44 games, good for a 52 goal pace in a normal 82 game season. During this, his age 27 season, Ovechkin is again producing like his 24 year old self.

Since we know that players generally peak around age 25, the inner skeptic fueled me to take a deeper look into just where Ovechkin's sudden spike in production is coming from. Following the lead of the fine folks at Russian Machine Never Breaks, below is a breakdown of Ovechkin's 5v5 and 5v4 numbers in 2013 compared with his 5-year averages from 2007-12 (numbers via

Ovechkin 5v5
2007-12 (Avg)25.825.6254.412.5610.1014

Ovechkin 5v4
2007-12 (Avg)13.815105.218.040.1312

There are two points to take home: first, Ovechkin's goals are coming less from even strength play, as his shot rates have slightly improved from last season but still fall below his insane 5-year average. While it's true that even a slightly mortal Alex Ovechkin still shoots with the league's best, Ovie's declining 5v5 totals just aren't in line with what we'd expect from 50-goal Alex Ovechkin.

Second, Ovechkin is shooting a hot 23% on the power play this season. Compare that with his 5-year average of 13.12%, a number closer in line with the league average 5v4 scoring rate, and we better understand why 50-goal Alex Ovechkin again walks the earth. Chris Gordon's observation that
The goals must come from somewhere else, and they do. The Caps feed him the puck so he can launch a quick shot from the circles, usually on the power play.
is spot-on, but comes with a "yeah, but..." attached if we're to look toward the future.

It's very possible that Alex Ovechkin is an above-average power play shooter, but approaching 10% better than league-average is far less likely. 50-goal Alex Ovechkin may have returned in 2013, but when it's entirely on the heels of something as volatile as PP SH%, next season's narratives almost write themselves. If Ovechkin can sustain the increase in PP shots he's getting in Oates's system, 40-goal Ovechkin may have a victory lap or two before Father Time reigns him in. However, projecting a player like Ovechkin to sustain this scoring rate becomes far less certain when he's depending on more goals to come from the inherent volatility involved with scoring on the PP.

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