From Alzner to Varlamov, we're taking a look at and grading (please read the criteria below) the 2009-10 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2010-11. Next up, Alex Ovechkin.
#8 / Left Wing / Washington Capitals
Sep 17, 1985
$9,538,461.54 cap hit in 2009-10; UFA after 2020-21 season
Key Stats: Ovechkin led the League in points- and goals-per-game and goals created (despite missing ten games; stat explained here), had the best plus-minus rating among NHL forwards and led the Caps to the best record in the NHL.
Interesting Stat: Ovechkin took 30.3% fewer shots in 2009-10 than he did in 2008-09, but only scored 10.7% fewer goals.
The Good: With his second-consecutive 50/50 campaign, Ovechkin joined Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Mike Bossy as the only players in NHL history to top 250 goals and 250 assists in their first five years in the League. He started the season like a house afire - with three consecutive three-point games - and by the time the dust settled on the 82-game campaign, he led the League in multi-point games, even-strength, road and empty net goals, and non-division goals and points, and led the Caps in power-play, home, first and game-winning tallies. Ovechkin's five-on-five Corsi was spectacular and his goals-per-sixty at five-aside other-worldly. He also finished 19th among NHL forwards in hits, and no one in front of him played fewer games other than Chris Neil (needless to say, no one within spitting distance in front or behind AO finished anywhere near him in points).
As nice as those numbers are, Ovechkin's 2009-10 season was about his growth as a player and a leader. Ovechkin set a career-best in points-per-game (1.51), bettered his plus-minus by 37 over 2008-09, and had the ninth-best goals against per sixty at five-on-five in the League among forwards with 12 minutes of ice time per game (he was third in goals for). And, of course, back on January 5, Ovechkin was named the 14th captain in team history. Under AO's leadership, the Caps closed out the season with a scorching 30-4-7 mark after he got the "C," which included a franchise-record 14-game win streak just prior to the Olympic break. Simply put, he was the most valuable skater in hockey during the regular season.
Then came the playoffs, where Ovechkin improved on his regular season goal-per-game rate (bet you haven't read that stat in too many mainstream articles) for the second-consecutive season, and led the Caps with five goals, five assists and ten points in seven games - he was hardly "neutralized." For all of the talk of Ovechkin's supposed playoff struggles in the Canadiens series, his 14.7 shooting percentage was higher than any single season or playoffs in his NHL career. Needless to say, that's only counting shots that made it all the way to the goal, but contrary to what your eyes (and hockey analysts) might have told you, AO's per-game shots on goal were down just a quarter of a shot (or less than 5%) per game.
Given the above, it's no surprise that Ovechkin is a Hart Trophy finalist for the third-consecutive season.
The Bad: Despite the mountain of positives piled up above, 2009-10 was a tough season for Alex Ovechkin. He was ejected from games and/or received supplementary discipline from the League for four different hits (a slew foot on Rich Peverley for which he was fined, a board on Patrick Kaleta for which he was ejected, a knee-on-knee hit on Tim Gleason for which he was ejected and suspended two games, and a board on Brian Campbell for which he was ejected and suspended two games); the Russian Machine did, in fact, break for the first time, as a shoulder injury sidelined him for six games; his Olympics were a disappointment on and off the ice, which were nothing compared to the disappointment of leading the Presidents' Trophy winner to a 3-1 first round series lead before watching the series slip away; and most recently Russia's loss at the World Championships provided a little extra salt in the wound before Ovechkin could finally call it a season. In the span of less than a year, Ovechkin went (unfairly) from media darling to whipping boy; from rugged MVP to dirty choker. It has to have taken a toll, and it seemed to in his game - from February 8 until the last week of the season, Ovechkin scored goals in just three of 18 games and just wasn't quite right.
Digging a little deeper, Ovechkin skated the longest shifts in the League, saw his power-play production drop a bit, and... well, there really isn't much else wrong with what AO did during the regular season. But the playoffs were a different story. Sure, the numbers in aggregate look fine. And there's really nothing too upsetting about a 0-shot performance in Game 1, so long as it's followed with a bounce-back game (or three). And it was.
But in the first ten minutes of Game 5, when the Caps had the Canadiens down 3-1 and entering one of the loudest arenas in hockey, Alex Ovechkin, the lead-by-example captain, was, to put it mildly, indifferent to the defensive side of the game. And it cost his team twice. Instead of killer instinct, the only thing that died that night was the Caps' momentum, and Ovechkin would finish the series with just one goal and one assists over the last three games. Throw in an appropriate share of culpability for the teams dreadful postseason power-play, and those ten points are tempered quite a bit... and so is Alex Ovechkin's 2009-10 season.
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: What would you like to see Ovechkin improve on in 2010-11? What will it take for him to earn a 10 rating next year?