Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On the Matter of Alex Ovechkin's Consistency -- Part II

In the first part of our look at the production of Alex Ovechkin we focused on what we called “pivot points” – those incidences or occurrences that might have been, by virtue of their importance, turning points after which Ovechkin’s production slumped from that of a 50-goals, 100-point player to more of a 35-goal (or less – he is on a pace for 26), 80-point (or less – he is on a pace for 62) player.

A general look at seven points did not yield a clear point at which Ovechkin’s production began to turn. So now we will look at the numbers themselves. Over there on the right margin you will find a link to a piece we scribbled back in Ovechkin’ second season, “The Remarkable Consistency of Alexander Ovechkin.” We updated it periodically, the last time being at the beginning of November 2009. The table in it showed that remarkable consistency of Ovechkin in that he consistently and reliably scored ten or more points in ten games. In the 33 full ten-game blocks we looked at, 28 times he reached the ten-point mark. Twenty-one times he recorded 13 or more points, 13 points-per-ten game block being that necessary to reach the 100-point mark for an 82-game season.

Ovechkin recently reached the 500-games played mark, giving him 50 ten-game blocks of production. In those 50 blocks of ten games…

-- Ovechkin recorded ten or more points in 42 of them.
-- He recorded 13 or more points (the 100-point pace) in 27 of them.
-- He record 15 or more points (roughly a 120-point pace) in 17 of them.
-- He recorded six or more goals (roughly a 50-goal pace) in 31 of them.
-- He recorded ten or more goals in five of them.

Displaying the data graphically hints at some things. First, let’s look at a graph of his goal scoring by ten-game block (click on any picture for a larger image):

Over that span of 50 ten-game segments Ovechkin averaged 6.18 goals/segment. But note the considerable drop-off late in the series. He only reached six goals in one of his last ten segments and averaged only 3.6 goals/segment. Of the five occasions in which he recorded three or fewer goals in a ten-game segment, four of them came in these last ten segments (the other came in games 21-30 of his career).

Then there is the matter of assists. Over the 50-segment series Ovechkin shows an upward trend overall in producing helpers:

Even though there is considerable amplitude among individual ten-game segments (a low of one assist, a high of 13), this should not be surprising for a winger primarily known for – and responsible for – scoring goals on his own. But as his game became more refined, or just as a product of experience and deeper talent around him accumulated by the Caps over time, he was trending up in producing assists.

That brings us to “points.” The combination of a marked drop off in goal scoring with an upward trend in assists gives us this over the entire series of ten-game segments:

Overall, the drift is downward, although still trending over ten points per segment. But there is that spike of 20 points. The points fall off the proverbial cliff after that.

The drop-off in points is influenced most by Ovechkin’s goal production, hardly surprising for a goal scorer. But did Ovechkin merely forget how to score goals? Was he “figured out” by defenses? Was there an injury that might have influenced production among the last segments in the series?

To explore those factors, we might look first at shots on goal. Ovechkin has been a high-volume shooter in his career thus far. He led the league in shot and shots per game in each of his first six seasons, including last season. But consider that in his first five seasons he averaged at least 5.11 shots per game in four of them. Only in one of them – 2006-2007 – did he average fewer than five shots per game. That also happened to be the only season of the five in which he finished with fewer than 50 goals. Here is how the shots look graphically in his 50 ten-game segments to date:

It is worth noting that the sixth of six seasons in which he led the league in shots on goal – last season – he averaged “only” 4.65 shots per game for the season. But if you look at the graph, you can see that the drop-off came not in the 2010-2011 season (covered in segments 40-47), but started before that. And it was the drop-off starting late in the previous season that contributed to a drop in Ovechkin’s shots on goal from 5.11 per game in 2009-2010 to 4.65 shots per game in 2010-2011.

That brings us to shooting percentage. As a high-volume, high output shooter (shots/goals), Ovechkin has never been an especially efficient shooter. His career high in shooting percentage came in the 2007-2008 season (14.6 percent), which also happened to be the year in which he recorded 65 goals. Only twice in his first five full seasons has he ranked in the top-100 in shooting percentage among all qualifying skaters, and his average rank has been 102nd. Here is how Ovechkin’s shooting percentage looks across his 50 ten-game segments:

While the graph shows a downward trend to his shooting percentage, Ovechkin was reliably in the 10-15 percent band for much of the series. Only 15 times in the 50 segments has he been below ten percent over a ten-game segment. However, eight of them have come in his last 12 segments.

Alex Ovechkin is a goal scorer. It is has not been and is not the entirety of his game, but it has defined his presence to a large extent in his six-plus seasons in the NHL. It also animates the rest of his game. Few players of recent memory seemed to get as much of a thrill in scoring a goal, and when he scored, the other parts of his game – hitting, skating, passing – seemed to follow in step.

But something has happened to cause the wheels to wobble on his goal-scoring production. Is it defenses figuring him out? Is it the natural effect of age? Is it something else? The anecdotal and graphic evidence points to something of recent vintage – something that has happened in the past 150 games or so. Trying to figure that out means delving a little deeper into the data and the calendar themselves. And that will be the task of the third and last part of this examination.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As usual, these are superb and interesting posts. Very nice work. I certainly have nothing of significant substance to add to your superior work, but I will offer the following, non-statistical, non-empirical possibility: Ovimania. That is, although his production is expected to decline as he 'ages,' it should not be declining this much. In addition to your statistical possibilities, I offer the fact that his past superlative accomplishments could have gone to his head. I point to specifically this summer when there was such an obsession with his sticks, his skates, t-shirts, his sponsorships, wax image, etc. I remember writing on the blogs for everyone to shut up about this because it was not important and irrelevant to his on-ice production particularly after the previous sub-par year. In other words, as with many famous and accomplished athletes, artists, writers, etc., they tend to get a little too fat, happy, and dare I say, lazy. How else to explain the inexplicable 'lack of fire' so evident over the past year? Ironically, it was this 'fire' that endeared so many of us to him and his heavenly hockey skills. Further, I think this same 'head' issue could also be contributing to his not-so-spectacular performance as a captain and the over-all lethargy of the team these days. In short, Ovi needs to get infectious again by being a productive player....not as a marketer or celebrity. He might be taking himself and his image a tad too seriously, shall we say.