Alex Ovechkin scored his first even-strength goal of the season back on February 9. It took him a dozen games to light the lamp at five-aside, and in the midst of that stretch, we lamented that "Ovechkin needs to spend less time with the puck and more time doing things without it - moving to soft spots in zones, driving to the net for rebounds, and so on."
We're now twenty-eight games into the season and Ovechkin has but four even-strength tallies, with the fourth coming last night. Four. The shots are there (he's comfortably in the top-ten in five-on-five shots on goal), but the goals just aren't.
Or perhaps the shots aren't there after all.
Ovechkin has always been a volume shooter - in his big years, he scored a ton of goals because he pumped a ton of rubber at the net, an underrated skill in and of itself. Was he a markedly better finisher in those years than he is now? Doubtful. But over the past two seasons (through Saturday's game), Ovechkin has averaged just 2.4 even-strength shots on goal per game, down from 2.9 for the previous two seasons, which was down from 3.4 over the two campaigns before that. That's nearly a 30% drop, and the goals, unsurprisingly, have disappeared along with the shots. (As to the reasons for the drop, some of that is covered in the post linked to in the sidebar.)
That only explains part of the drop in even-strength production, though,as his even-strength shooting percentage has also fallen, from 13% to 12.9% to 9.3% over the three spans, including just 5.6% this year (through Sunday). Part of that is luck or randomness or whatever word you want to assign to the stuff that's out of the shooter's control - a few bounces or misplays by opposing goalies and that 5.6% is something more inline with his career averages. But Ovechkin's even-strength shot selection seems to have worsened as well (no doubt a chicken-or-the-egg effect alongside his team's decline in offensive production and multiple system changes).
Via theninjagreg's brilliant "Super Shot Search" tool, take a look at Ovechkin's even-strength shots over the three seasons leading up to this year, keeping in mind that scoring chances are generally defined as shots taken from the "'home-plate shaped area' that goes from the top of the faceoff circles, through the faceoff dots, then angled to the goal posts" (and click on any of the images in this post to enlarge them):
And here's 2013 (through Saturday... let your imagination add one red dot around the top of the faceoff circle for last night's tally):
Ovechkin simply isn't taking (or getting) as many shots from dangerous areas as he used to, whether he's been centered by Nicklas Backstrom or Mike Ribeiro (lookin' good with Jay Beagle, though!). (This season's small sample size should be noted, as should the fact that not all shots are included in these charts... though there's no reason to think that the ones that are included aren't representative).
As points of comparison, let's take a look at a couple of other big-bodied shooters, Corey Perry and James Neal (and by all means, pick your own comparables and give the Shot Search a spin and draw your own conclusions). First, Perry's last three years:
And Neal's last two:
With the 2013 season quickly looking like one that will provide the Caps with ample opportunities to work on specific aspects of their game the rest of the way without having to worry about, y'know, winning, high on the list of priorities has to be figuring out how to get Ovechkin more scoring chances, whether he's carrying the puck or letting someone else do it - it could be a big part of the difference between a successful 2013-14 and another season like this one, both for the player and the team.