Thursday, December 15, 2011

On the Matter of Alex Ovechkin's Consistency -- Part III: The "38th Parallel"

We have been looking at the mysterious decline in the production of Alex Ovechkin, first looking at what might be “pivot points” – specific instances or occurrences that might have influenced a decline in his production. Then we took a graphical look at his production to see if it was possible to home in on where it started or what might have been associated with it. Taking a cursory look at seven pivot points was not conclusive, and the graphical examination of the production data suggested that the decline in production started late in the series of 500 games (broken into ten-game segments). But intuitively, you probably would have or did arrive at the same conclusions.

Ovechkin’s production data do, however point to a point in time – a rather specific one as it turns out – where his production started a persistent slide. First, let’s look at the ten-game segment data:

As we noted, Ovechkin displayed a remarkable consistency in putting up goals and points as reflected in his ten-game segments. But they do break down into two large segments. In his first 38 segments covering 380 games, Ovechkin recorded at least six goals (roughly a 50-goal pace) 29 times. In fact, he recorded at least six goals in each of his last 12 ten-game segments, topping ten goals in a segment three times.

Part of the problem insofar as goal-scoring is concerned is a “power” problem. In his first 38 ten-game segments Ovechkin scored at least one power play goal in 34 of them and never went consecutive segments without an extra-man goal. Eighteen times he recorded at least three power play goals. In his last 12 ten-game segments he has recorded at least one power play goal eight times. While that might not sound like much of a drop, or at least within what one would consider a range of error, he did not record three or more power play goals in any of those 12 segments. But rather than explaining the problem ,it is part of the larger problem of a general decline in putting the puck in the net.

In those first 38 segments he recorded at least 13 points (a 100-plus point pace) 25 times and did so nine times in the last 12 of those 38 segments. He recorded 15 or more points (a 120-point pace) eight times in those 12 segments. After that 38th segment Ovechkin managed to finish in double-digits in points nine times, suggesting a consistency but at a diminished level of production. That is buoyed up by his ability to continue recording assists (as noted in Part II, that was trending up, despite a recent drop-off).

It would seem clear, then, that there is a goal-scoring drop-off that takes place after his 38th ten-game segment. This can be represented in a slightly different way graphically, looking at a moving 82-game progression starting with Game 82 of Ovechkin’s career (click on the picture for a larger image):

There is something that almost leaps off this graph. From Game 221 through Game 381, Ovechkin’s 82-game totals were 60 goals or more 142 times over the 161 games. In fact, he had a goal total of 65 in his previous 82 games as late as Game 375. To go almost two full seasons as what amounts to a consistent 60-goal scorer is unheard of in this era. But the end of that came swiftly, and soon after that Game 375.

Game 378 for Ovechkin came on February 13, 2010. It was a somewhat non-descript game. The Caps lost to the St. Louis Blues, 4-3, in a Gimmick. Ovechkin finished with 25:20 in ice time, his eighth consecutive game with over 20 minutes of ice time. He finished without a point, breaking a streak of nine games with at least one point and 18 of 19 games with at least one point. Despite the clean score sheet, this was not a player about to embark on a decline in his production. So what is significant about that game? It was the last game before the break for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.

And there is the line of demarcation between the Alex Ovechkin we knew and the one we know. The 38th ten-game segment straddles the Vancouver Olympic break. Since then, his goals and his shots on goal have fallen off the proverbial cliff. Look again at the graphical representations:

In the 12 ten-game segments since the 2010 Games, the measures we have been using to gauge production have been depressed:

-- Number of six-goal segments (50-goal pace): two of 12
-- Number of 13-point segments (100-point pace): two of 12
-- Number of 15-point segments (120-point pace): one of 12

And there are the shots on goal. If you look at those 38 ten-game segments preceding the Vancouver Games, Ovechkin averaged 54.8 shots per segment, 5.5 shots per game. In the 12 ten-game segments since he has averaged 44.2 shots per segment, 4.4 per game. A 1.1 shot per game difference does not sound like much, but remember that Ovechkin has not been an especially efficient shooter in his career. At his shooting percentage in his first 38 ten-game segments (12.5 percent), the drop in shots per game would explain about half of his drop in goals from a 56-goal pace per 82 games in the first 38 segments to a 33-goal pace in his last 12 segments (10.9 goals per 82 games).

The rest of the decline might be a function of poor shooting percentage overall. In his last 12 ten-game segments Ovechkin is converting shots into goals at a 9.1 percent pace, and the drop is more marked since the beginning of the 2010-2011 season (8.7 percent).

A recurring theme revolving around Ovechkin’s drop in production – almost entirely a function of a drop-off in goal scoring – is that teams have “figured him out.” The thought here is that Ovechkin’s go-to moves are well-defined, well-scouted, and now well-defended. There is a kernel of truth in that, if you associate a drop in shooting percentage with his being pushed to places on the ice from which he is not effective in scoring, or that goaltenders have compiled a book on him in terms of his favorite spots from which to shoot and can position themselves accordingly (seen a lot of those one-timers from the circle on the power play going in lately?).

But that might explain only about half of the drop in his production. With that drop in production Ovechkin could – should – still be a 40-45 goal scorer. But for whatever reason, that break in his career associated with the Olympics in Vancouver was in fact the pivot point we were looking for. Before that, he was a scoring monster right up until that break. After that experience, his production has not come close to approximating that level.

There is no shortage of pundits who will, and have opined that the Vancouver experience had its effects on Ovechkin. We are not among them. We will not play pop psychologist and engage in speculation as to what effects that experience might or might not have on a player’s intangibles. But that point serves as a rather bright line between two stages of Ovechkin’s career as a goal scorer. The data stand on their own merits. Whatever player he was before those Games, he has not been that player since.


Demitra said...

Great work as always. I was composing my comment here on the second part of the trilogy when the third part dropped. Kinda took the wind out of my future sight. :(

My money is on the suspension following the Campbell hit. That whole incident seemed to douse his otherwise irrepressible spirit. When combined with the rest of that year (Olympics, World Championships, yet another playoff collapse) you end up with one massive straw that can hobble a camel by itself. I don't know that you can point to any one of these pieces and call it the smoking gun, but I do think that the suspension caused Alex to change his game, or at least start thinking on the ice instead of just acting. Conventional wisdom says the Caps go as Ovie goes. If that's true, and I think in the long term it is, then #8 needs to screw his head on tight and find his lunch pail. Otherwise we're all in for the kind of drifting, aimless play that the club has been putting forth lately, a style perfectly embodied by Ovie's "play" in his own zone. While I think he is capable of working through this funk and getting back to a level close to where he was before this big slide, whether he has the drive to find the answer and put in the work is a more troubling matter.

Trey said...

That Canada Russia game was where Babcock started demanding really heavy back pressure on Ovechkin. That "strategy" gained a lot of traction around the league afterwards.

cuqui said...

Fantastic series, Peerless. Thanks as always.

chris said...

Just spectacular work all the way round

Anonymous said...

Very thorough piece that hit all the right point but I think you left out one pivot point......The Gilette contract.That was the low point in his marketing career,standing all but naked vainly staring at himself in the mirror as he sells his persona to the corporate devils.All for what another Mercedes?
Samsons powers have diminished since then and we are left to watch his Babylon crumble.
Until he forsakes his relentless personal pursuit of corporate sponsorship and starts to focus on leading a hockey team we will face the eternal damnation of mediocre hockey.
He should go back to Easterns Motors commercials for salvation.
Just my 2 scents

Kiran said...

Nice analysis as usual. I don't know if I agree with breaking his career up into 10-game segments, declaring one of those segments the parallel beyond which his play took a nosedive - and then from that, concluding that events right before one of these artificially constructed parallels broke him. You've mentioned several factors, all of which could have effects on his play, and all of which probably do have some effect on his play. The stats show only that he hasn't produced as much as he once did over the past year and a half - they don't explain the dip at all (correlation is not causation yada yada yada). Statistically speaking, it's nearly impossible to separate the effects of one thing (e.g. the Olympic letdown) from another (e.g. strategic approaches to defending him, added talent on the Caps, or the suspensions). I wish we could do a regression analysis to effectively isolate variables, but how do you control for the psychological effects of being suspended or of failing under the weight of a whole country's expectations? That's the problem with analyzing free-flowing sports - there's never a legitimate basis for comparison.

Either way, here's to time healing the many wounds Ovechkin's endured over the past year and a half.

The Peerless said...

We make no claims as to causation. The only claim we make, and we think the data support it, is that the Vancouver Games is a tipping point. Before that, he was a monster goal scorer (56 goals/82 games for his career to that point). After that, no so much (33 goals/82 games).

As to a "cause?" I would even hestitate to speculate. I'm not close enough to the player to offer any informed insight on that matter.

macvechkin said...

We may not want to play pop psychologist but I often wonder if Ovi wouldn't benefit from a sports-specific one.

sprcnly said...

Nice posts, thanks. The Canadian success and Russian failure in Vancouver most certainly started a new level of pressure for Ovie, the Russian ambassador for the games in Sochi, with four years to think it over.

hockeypuck17 said...

Steroids, or other performance enhancing drugs. He had to clean up for Olympics. Someone has to it.

hockeypuck17 said...

Steroids. He had to clean up for the Olympics. It's obvious, and someone has to say it.