“So I look at Alex Ovechkin’s pedestrian numbers and forget the seven goals and 14 points in the first 17 games. The one that leaps off the page as most pertinent and most inexplicable is the 18:43 of ice time per game that as of Friday ranked — get this — 67th in the league among forwards who have played at least 10 games.
“Then I hear Bruce Boudreau, the coach responsible for that astounding stat, talk about how using four lines makes the Capitals a better team and my thoughts turn to Al Arbour, who back in the day cut Mike Bossy’s minutes so he could get Hector Marini on the ice more often, but wait, no, that didn’t happen, and of course that didn’t happen, are you crazy?
“Unless Ovechkin simply is not in good enough condition at the age of 26 to play approximately the 23:03 a match he averaged over the course of the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons during which he was the NHL’s most electrifying athlete, then limiting his ice time so people such as Cody Eakin or Joel Ward can get a few extra spins is strategy from another planet that is doomed to fail.”
Well, is there any merit to this? The simplest way to look at this, since time (or lack of it) is the factor in question, is to break up his career into those games in which he logged 20 minutes of ice time or more and those games in which he played less. And what you get is this:
At first blush it is not clear that time is a factor here. Over his career Ovechkin has, in fact, posted better numbers (on a per-82 games basis) when he received more managed minutes. More goals, more assists, better plus-minus, more power play goals. But that is a span of six-plus seasons and almost 500 games. Is there anything in the recent history to shed some light on this?
In his last 82 games, Ovechkin’s ice time has been split into 32 games of less than 20 minutes and 52 games of 20 minutes or more. Those break down like this:
In his last 82-game block of games Ovechkin has recorded a larger share of games with fewer than 20 minutes (32 of 82; 39 percent)) than his career share (124 of 493; 25 percent). But again, he has better numbers in general when skating fewer minutes (again, on a per-82 games basis) – more goals, more assists, more points, a better plus-minus. The only areas in which he has not performed better are in power play goals and shots.
But now, turn the data sideways, compare his career averages per 82 games with his last 82 games for games with ice time lower than 20 minutes, and ice time of 20 minutes or more. And now, we can see some differences:
He is down across the board in his last 82 games from his career per-82 game averages in almost every category, regardless of whether he plays more or fewer than 20 minutes. And it is his “personal” production – things for which he is directly accountable (goals, shots) that show the most marked drop offs.
Whether Cody Eakin or Joel Ward deserve an “extra spin” around the ice is one thing. But it is not the same as saying Ovechkin should be returned to logging 22-24 minutes a night. His production, whether over his entire career or over his last 82 games, just doesn’t clearly point to ice time as his problem.
The answer to that question continues to elude hockey minds more astute than ours.