Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Washington Capitals 2019-2020 Previews -- Forwards: Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin

“Let us never know what old age is. Let us know the happiness time brings, not count the years.”
-- Ausonius

He just keeps going.  Six years ago, some asked “what the hell happened?” They were asking, “what’s wrong with Alex Ovechkin?”  They were asking, “is Alexander Ovechkin still a superstar?"  Ovechkin had come off consecutive seasons in which he recorded fewer than 40 goals, the only time that has happened in his career, and he was just starting up in the abbreviated 2012-2013 schedule with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over him. 

He responded as one would come to expect how he would.  He scored 32 goals in 48 games in that abbreviated schedule, winning the Maurice Richard trophy for the third time and setting off a string of six Richard Trophies in seven seasons, over which he scored 319 goals in 531 games, an average of 49 goals per 82 games.  Those 319 goals are 84 more than the second-place goal scorer over the period (John Tavares: 235).  And what might be most remarkable about last season, look at the table above.  Last season was more or less "average" in the context of his career overall.

As one would expect, his goal scoring matters, as it has over his career.  The Caps were 26-8-2 in the 36 games in which Ovechkin scored a goal last season.  The points percentage in those games (.750) is consistent with what it has been over his entire career (.728/341-113-45).

Odd Ovechkin Fact…

Alex Ovechkin led the league in goals scored for the eighth time in his career last season.  However, he did not lead the league in total games with at least one goal scored.  He did not finish second.  He did not finish third.  He scored a goal in 36 games last season, tied with Steven Stamkos for fourth place, behind Leon Draisaitl (39), Nathan MacKinnon (37) and John Tavares (37).

Bonus Odd Ovechkin Fact…

If Alex Ovechkin sat out the last four seasons, he would still hold an almost 30-goal lead over his closest pursuer in goal scoring since he came into the league (475 to 446 for Sidney Crosby).  That he has more than 200 more goals than the field over those 14 seasons (212 over Crosby) looks especially dominant when one considers that over his first 14 NHL seasons, Wayne Gretzky had 182 more goals (765) than his closest pursuer over that period (Mike Gartner: 583).

Extra Bonus Odd Ovechkin Fact…

Alex Ovechkin has won the league goal scoring title eight times.  Seven different players finished second to him in those seasons.  Steven Stamkos is the only player to finish second to Ovechkin twice (2012-2013 and 2014-2015).  The others:
  • Ilya Kovalchuk (2007-2008)
  • Jeff Carter (2008-2009)
  • Corey Perry (2013-2014
  • Patrick Kane (2015-2016)
  • Patrik Laine (2017-2018)
  • Leon Draisaitl (2018-2019)

Fearless’ Take…

Lost in all the milestones and records is that Alex Ovechkin, for all those milestones and records, has been something of an underrated postseason performer.  He is the active leader in goals per game in the postseason (0.51), a far more frequent goal scorer than the next active player in line among the 102 active players with at least 75 postseason games played (Logan Couture: 0.41 per game).   And, he has gotten better with age in this area.  Ovechkin has not gone consecutive playoff games without a point since Game 7 of the 2017 series against Pittsburgh that ended the Caps’ season and Game 1 of the opening round of the 2018 playoffs against Columbus.  In his last 30 playoff games, he is 19-17-36, plus-6.

Cheerless’ Take…

His bike riding needs work.  On the ice, this might be more of an odd fact, but one thing about Ovechkin’s career goal scoring that is unusual is how poor, relatively speaking, he has been against Metropolitan Division teams compared to teams of other divisions.  His career goals per game, by division:
  • Central: 119 games/0.69 goals per game
  • Northwest: 29/0.66
  • Atlantic: 290/0.64
  • Northeast: 149/0.62
  • Southeast: 203/0.61
  • Metropolitan: 174/0.55
  • Pacific: 120/0.50

Potential Milestones:
  • 700 career goals (658; he needs 42)
  • Top-ten all time in career goals scored (he needs 32 to tie Mario Lemieux (690) for 10th place)
  • 1,100 career games played (1,084; he needs 16)
  • 600 career assists (553; he needs 47)
  • 1,300 career points (1,211; he needs 89)
  • 250 career power play goals (247; he needs three)
  • 500 career games scoring at least one goal (499; he needs one)
  • 10th place in career hat tricks (23; currently tied with Jari Kurri)
  • 4th place in career multi-goal games (132; he needs three to tie Mike Gartner)
  • Top-five in career game winning goals (107; he needs three to tie Brett Hull and Teemu Selanne, unless Patrick Marleau (106) gets there first)
  • Most seasons played as a Capital (this will be his 15th season, tying Calle Johansson for the all-time high)
  • 700 career penalty minutes (694; he needs six)
  • Top-ten in career penalty minutes as a Capital (694; he needs five to tie Greg Adams for 10th place)
  • Tie for first in all-time total of 50-goal seasons (eight; he needs one to tie Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky)
  • Second place in all time 40-goal seasons (10; he needs one to break a tie with Marcel Dionne and Mario Lemieux)
  • Tie for second place all time in 30-goal seasons (14; he needs one to tie Jaromir Jagr)
  • Become second player in NHL history to record 30 or more goals in each of his first 15 seasons (Mike Gartner; Ovechkin holds the record for having done it with one team)

The Big Question… Is there another 50-goal season in Alex Ovechkin’s future?

Alex Ovechkin will be 34 years old when the puck drops on the 2019-2010 season.  Only one player in NHL history scored 50 or more goals having reached his 34th birthday.  John Bucyk scored 51 goals in 78 games for the 1970-1971 Boston Bruins.  Odd thing about that; Bucyk did not lead that team in goal scoring, and it wasn’t close.  Phil Esposito recorded 76 goals. 

If any player is going to hit 50 goals this season, whatever his age, Ovechkin would rank most likely to do so on many lists.  Since he came into the league in 2005-2006, only three other players have recorded multiple goal seasons – Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Steven Stamkos with two apiece.  Ovechkin has done it eight times, four times in the last six seasons, and had the 2012-2013 season been played in its entirety, he might have five 50-goal seasons in seven years (he had 32 goals in 48 games that season).

The key here might be his start.  He had 12 goals in his first 14 games last season on his way to a 51-goal season.  In 2017-2018 he had seven goals in his first two games and ten in his first eight contests on the way to 49 goals.  In 2016-2017 he had seven goals in his first 11 games, but faded and finished with 33.  But the year before that he had goals in each of his first five games and eight in his first dozen contests before finishing with 50.

On the other hand, reaching his 34th birthday, a slow start could inspire whispers and questions of the sort that were being asked of him in 2013.  Coincidentally, that was the last season in which Ovechkin did not record at least five goals in his first ten games (he had two goals through ten games).  In his last 38 games in that abbreviated season, he recorded 30 goals.  Age will claim his talents and production as it does every player at some point, but dismissing him is done at one’s peril.

In the end…

Alex Ovechkin is playing for history at this point in his career.  He has won every individual performance award available to forwards, except the Selke Trophy (for top defensive forward), several of them multiple times.  He has played in seven All-Star games; he has been named to the NHL All-Star first or second team 11 times, once at two positions (first team right wing and second team left wing in 2012-2013).

But with all the accomplishments, the beginning of every season from here on out is going to find Caps fans holding their breath that this is the year when the inevitable decline in performance appears.  That it has taken this long is remarkable when one considers that Wayne Gretzky did not score as many as 40 goals in a season after his 30-year old season.  Mario Lemieux did not do so after his 31-year old season.  Brett Hull did not do so after his 32-year old season.  Jaromir Jagr did not do so after age 33.  Gordie Howe did so once after age 28, although there were fewer games on the regular season schedule in his era.  Until it happens, though, it is Ovechkin versus the field as far as goal scoring goes.  From year to year, someone emerges as a potential competitor, but none seem to last as a true rival.  He has been the league’s constant in goal scoring, and Caps fans hope they will be counting on that to continue as a source of happiness for years to come.

Projection: 81 games, 48-40-88, plus-10

Photo: Getty Images North America