In his five years with the Caps, Alex Ovechkin has without a doubt become the scariest and most prolific goal-scorer in the NHL. His goal totals already border on historic, both within the franchise and League-wide.
And yet for all the talk of his goal-scoring prowess, one of the more underrated aspects of his game has been his ability to set up plays, to find linemates with a perfect pass, to be a playmaker as well as a sniper. His assist totals are often right up there with his goals; in fact, in three of his first four seasons, his goals and assists for the year were almost identical, the exception being the 07-08 campaign when he put up an incredible 65 goals.
This season, it’s a different story. Surrounded by an offensive juggernaut that’s finally able to keep up with him, Ovechkin has climbed to the top of the NHL scoring race not on the basis of his goals, but his assists. Despite missing eight games, he seems poised to smash his career-high 54 assists; his two assists against the Hurricanes last night has him sitting at 50 - with 15 games remaining and no signs of slowing down.
For comparison’s sake, here’s where he sat 59 games in over the last four seasons:
To establish his highest points total through 59 games is impressive, and to do it by such a huge margin is even more so - and it's not hard to see where the difference lies.
And it goes well beyond just the raw numbers. Consider that he’s put up huge assist totals, and point totals in general, while actually seeing his average ice time go down this season - from 23:00 a night last year to 21:49 this year.
Although often known for his power play prowess, his biggest gains have come at even strength. Last year he had 27 even strength assists in 79 games; this year he's already at 30, with 20 fewer games played. His assists-per-sixty-minutes at full and even strength has risen from 1.29 in 2008-09 to 1.85 this season, including an outstanding primary A/60 rate of 1.35 - good enough for 5th in the NHL and ahead of teammate (and a pretty impressive playmaker in his own right) Nicklas Backstrom. With penalties generally going down in the playoffs, that development will be huge when the postseason rolls around.
At its most basic level, his growing assist total is merely another set of pretty numbers to add to the growing legend that is Alex Ovechkin. But beyond that is the fact that Ovechkin continues to develop aspects of his game and become more of a well-rounded player - and thus a more dangerous player, with or without the puck.