From Alzner to Wideman, we're taking a look at and grading (please read the criteria below) the 2011-12 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2012-13. Next up, Alex Ovechkin.
#8 / Left Wing / Washington Capitals
Key Stat: For the first time in his NHL career, Ovechkin didn't lead the NHL in shots on goal, finishing fifth overall.
Interesting Stat: Ovechkin scored 81% more goals than the Caps' second-leading goal-scorer (Alexander Semin, 21), which trailed only Steven Stamkos in terms of the biggest drop-off, percentage-wise, between a team's top and second-place lamp-lighters. (Stamkos scored 60 goals, 35 more than Martin St. Louis.)
The Good: Ovechkin - still far and away the NHL's most prolific goal-scorer since the lockout and one of three players to score 30 or more goals in each of those seven seasons - had a bit of a bounce-back season in that department, scoring a half-dozen more goals than he did in 2010-11, and you could point to the power-play as to where he found those six goals (he's now scored 25 even-strength goals in each of the past two campaigns). His goal and point totals were enough to comfortably lead the team (despite playing 36 more games than Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin was unable to surpass the Swedish pivot in assists on the season, losing out by a 30-27 count), which ultimately probably says more about the team than its captain. Ovechkin scored at a 50-goal pace over the last 43 games of the season and had a handful of vintage individual performances, including a March comeback win against the Isles, one of eight multi-goal efforts for The Great Eight.
Ovechkin carried his strong play into the playoffs, where he had four points in the first four games despite getting a heavy dose of the ultra-physical defensive pairing of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, a match-up in which he gave as good as he got all series long. Against the Rangers in Round 2, Ovechkin scored a tie-breaking power-play game-winner in the last eight minutes of Game 2 and opened the scoring in a must-win 2-1 Game 6 victory. Not a bad season... for a mere mortal.
The Bad: When Ovechkin has been great (or even very good) in the past, he's done it by possessing the puck and generating a ton of shots. In 2011-12, both of those aspects of his game were greatly diminished, due largely to three factors, in varying degrees: the coaching change (for which reasonable minds can differ as to the captain's culpability, but the Caps went from a good possession team to an awful one in an instant), the loss of Backstrom (but if your $10-million winger needs a $7-million center to be effective, he's not a $10-million winger), and Ovechkin himself. The results have been stark: his possession numbers have tailed off from a relative Corsi of 11.9 to negative-3.4 in the past two seasons, while the team fired 16% fewer shots on net with Ovi on the ice at even-strength, and his own shot rate has dropped by around that same 16% number, and all of this despite relatively easy zone starts and competition. Suddenly that six-goal "bounce-back" seems somewhat hollow, doesn't it?
Ovechkin set new career-lows in assists, points, even-strength goals (tied), game-winning goals, shots on goal, total- and per-game time on ice, and he's making the players around him... worse.
By the time the playoffs rolled around, Ovechkin seemed at times to be more of a decoy than a danger, and was, in his coach's mind, unplayable with a late lead due to his defensive indifference and/or deficiencies (to his credit, the captain said all the right things about his diminished and no doubt somewhat-humiliating role). And if a single goal could encapsulate Ovechkin's season, it might be the very last one the Caps allowed - Ovechkin tried to do to much by himself rather than making the safe/smart/simple play, got beaten by a mediocre defender, then failed to hustle back as that defender proceeded to ultimately end the Caps' season. Overly dramatic? Perhaps. But seven years into Ovechkin's career, the offensive numbers can no longer make up for the shortcomings in his game the way they did before; something's got to give.
The Vote: Rate Ovechkin below on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.
The Discussion: Ovechkin would seem to be at a crossroads in his career - another new coach coming, another disappointing season in the books, and not even a legitimate claim that he's "improving his all-around game" to mitigate it all. The question now is where does he go from here? If you were hired as the new Caps coach tomorrow, how would you fix Ovechkin? What will it take for him to earn a 10 rating next year?