Monday, June 06, 2022

Washington Capitals: 2021--2022 By the Tens -- Forwards: Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin

 “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”
-- Thomas Jefferson

He has won 18 personal awards in the NHL, 12 times been a first or second team NHL All Star Team selection, eight times named to the NHL All-Star Game, a gold medalist in World Juniors Championship and three times a gold medalist in the World Championships.  He has been a World Championship and Winter Olympics All Star.  He is an eight-time winner of the Kharlamov Trophy as best Russian player of the previous season.  He captained a team that won a Stanley Cup.  Alex Ovechkin’s past is among the most honored and accomplished in the history of international hockey.  The operative word there, though, is “past.”  For now, even as he will turn 37 years of age before the 2022-2023 season begins, his career is rooted in the future, chasing the gold standard of NHL records and perhaps one more Stanley Cup.  And the 2021-2022 season indicated that as he moves into that future, he is not slowing down much.

Fearless’ Take… Ninth 50-goal season.  Sixth 90-point season.  A shooting percentage of 15.0, third-best in his career.  Ice time of 20:34 per game, his 14th season averaging over 20 minutes per game.  The Caps were 30-4-6 when he scored a goal, 38-11-8 when he recorded at least one point.  He passed the 1,200 career games played mark, passed three players on the all-time goals list (Marcel Dionne, Brett Hull, Jaromir Jagr) on his way to third place all-time, passed the 600-assist mark for his career, passed the 1,400 point mark for his career, completed his all-time best 12th season with at least 15 power play goals (he had 16 this season), became the second player in NHL history to top 6,000 career shots on goal (Ray Bourque: 6,209), became the only player in the NHL to reach 3,000 hits (3.283) and 500 blocked shots (500) since the NHL started capturing those statistics in 2005-2006.  For Ovechkin, 2021-2022 was a season of what seemed to be an uninterrupted string of setting records and personal bests.

Cheerless’ Take… 50 goals and only five of them game-winners? And, it’s not that rare for him.  He’s had that double three times in his career, most since he came into the league (of course, having the most 50-goal seasons in that span is the big factor in that).  And, while he usually gets his share of shots with each game he plays, the Caps were just 14-9-6 in the 29 games in which he had five or more shots on goal.  Less was more when it came to ice time.  The Caps were 25-3-3 when he skated less than 20 minutes (yeah, the Caps might have had leads in those games to allow for more even distribution of ice time).  The Caps were just 9-11-5 in 25 games in which he was credited with three or more hits.

Odd Ovechkin Fact… Alex Ovechkin dressed for 77 games in 2021-2022.  Only once in 14 82-game seasons did he dress for fewer (72 games in 2009-2010).  He has 13 seasons of appearing in 75 or more games.  Since Ovechkin entered the league in 2005-2006, no player has more (he is tied with Patrick Marleau).

Odd Ovechkin Fact II… Ovechkin is the only player in league history to score 50 goals and post 90 points in a season at age 36 or older.

Odd Ovechkin Fact III… Ovechkin recorded two or fewer shots 13 times this season.  The Caps were 9-3-1 in those games, and Ovechkin was 6-4-10 in those games, his six goals coming on a total of 21 shots.

Game to Remember… April 6th vs. Tampa Bay.  When the Caps welcomed the Tampa Ba Lightning to Washington for an early-April matchup, they were a struggling team.  They went into that game looking to split the four games of a home stand and were just 2-4-0 in their previous six games, the two wins coming by one-goal margins against Buffalo and New Jersey, teams that failed to reach the postseason.  Not that the Lightning were lighting things up; they arrived in DC having just split their own four-game home stand.  Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin came into this game with mixed results over a two month period.  He was 13-8-21 in 21 games, never going consecutive games without a point in that stretch, but he was also a minus-13.  He was, however, at the brink of hitting a personal milestone. 

The Caps got out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Martin Fehervary and John Carlson just over two minutes apart in the first period.  Tampa halved the lead when Nikita Kucherov scored barely a minute after the Carlson goal.  Late in the period, though, Ovechkin hit his milestone, recording his 1,400th career point with a goal on a broken play.  Taking a pass from Carlson just outside the Lightning blue line, he skated into the right wing circle and tried to feed the puck forward to Evgeny Kuznetsov.  The puck pinballed among players, and before Ross Colton could corral the puck for the Lightning, Ovechkin darted in and snapped a shot off the crossbar and in behind goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to make it a 3-1 game, leaving Colton looking around trying to find who it was that stole the puck off his stick.

Ovechkin would add an assist on what would be the Caps’ 4-3 win over the Lightning.

Game to Forget… February 28th vs. Toronto.  Alex Ovechkin has had a lot of success against the Toronto Maple Leafs.  In 53 career games, he is 41-33-74, plus-5.  The game against the Leafs to end the February schedule was not one of his best against Toronto, though.  Things started poorly for Ovechkin and the Caps when he had an on-ice view of a Michael Bunting goal just 2:35 into the game to give the visitors a lead. The Caps tied the game on a goal by Conor Sheary, but the Maple Leafs scored twice in the last 1:11 of the period, the second goal coming with 1.6 second left in the period when Justin Holl scored from the doorstep before Ovechkin could tie him up off a scramble at the top of the paint.  The Caps came back to tie the game on a shorthanded goal by Tom Wilson early in the third period, but Toronto scored a pair of goals in the last five minutes, the latter an empty netter, both of which were scored with Ovechkin on the ice, for a 5-3 win.  Ovechkin did record an assist, but he was on ice for four goals and finished a season worst minus-4.

Postseason… Ovechkin was injured late in the season, apparently a shoulder injury, and it showed in the first round loss to Florida.  He had only one goal in the six games, his fewest for a postseason since he had one in a seven-game first round loss to the New York Rangers in 2013.  He also finished with a minus-3 rating, his worst since going minus-4 in 13 playoff games in 2017.  He had 19 shots on goal, the first time in 14 trips to the postseason that he finished the playoffs with fewer than 20 shots on goal, and his 5.3 shooting percentage was second-worst of his career (3.3 percent in 2013).  Odd playoff fact… his 20:44 in ice time per game matched to the second his ice time per game when the Caps won the Stanley Cup in 2018.

Looking Ahead… While the Stanley Cup remains the ultimate goal for any player, including Alex Ovechkin, next season could be another with a number of milestones and records to be achieved.  He could become the 64th player in NHL history to play in at least 1,300 games (he has 1,274 games).  He could become the third player in NHL history to reach 800 goals and could pass Gordie Howe (801) for second place on the NHL all-time list.  With another 90-point season, he would become the 15th player in NHL history to reach 1,500 career points (unless Sidney Crosby, with 1,409 points, gets there first).  With 15 power play goals, he would become the first player in NHL history to record 300 career power play goals.  With 149 shots on goal, he would pass Ray Bourque for the top spot all-time in that category. It could be another memorable season for Ovechkin.

In the End...

Ovechkin has accomplished much in his career, both on an individual and team level.  His consistency of performance is legendary, making it difficult to say with any certainty that this is the season in which he will finally show signs of slowing down.  The 2021-2022 season, his late season injury affecting his playoff performance notwithstanding, was a fairly typical (which is to say, “extraordinary”) season for Ovechkin.  Early on, he was a credible Hart Trophy candidate, which is hardly typical for a player with as many seasons as he has under his belt.  He will have to continue performing at that level if his team is to challenge for a playoff spot, let alone a deep playoff run.  It could be the height of folly to bet against him doing his part to push the Capitals toward those goals.

Grade: A-