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Back in the Black: Ovechkin and the Numbers

Alexander Ovechkin's stock is going up

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Alexander Ovechkin is having a somewhat astounding start to the season. Sure, he's mired in the longest scoring slump of his career (five games without a point), but don't let that fool you - Ovi is currently ranked seventh among forwards in five-on-five Fenwick-For percentage at 61.3%. That means that when Ovechkin has been on the ice at five-a-side, more than six out of every ten unblocked shot attempts has been directed towards the opponent's goal.

The sample size is still incredibly small, of course, but there is enough data to allow yourself to start getting excited. But while we know that possession numbers are important - they are the best metric for predicting a team's potential for future success - should we reasonably expect Ovechkin to put up points at a Boudreau-era rate?

The short answer is "no," but don't let that get you down. Although Ovechkin is unlikely to produce 60 goals or 100 points, his positive possession numbers should result in a better even strength Goals-For percentage (GF%) than we have seen in recent years. (And, last we checked, goal differential is still the favored method for determining individual game results.) This increase will be due almost exclusively to a sharp decrease in the rate of shot attempts against. Here's a year-by-year look at unblocked attempts (Fenwick) per 60 minutes of 5v5 play when Ovechkin has been on the ice (data from War-On-Ice).

Ovechkin Fenwick Rates

And this drop in shots against isn't exclusive to Ovechkin - in general the Capitals are doing an exemplary job of suppressing shot attempts. So assuming the Capitals' save percentage improves to League-average levels at five-on-five, the benefits (fewer goals-against) that the team has already seen as a result of their shot suppression will become even more profound.

But that's on the defensive side of things. On the offensive side, while Ovechkin has experienced a big drop off in Fenwick-Against (i.e. opponents' shot attempts) under Barry Trotz (relative to Adam Oates), he has not seen a real change in Fenwick-For (i.e. Caps shot attempts) rate. If we were to project Ovi's likely point totals based solely on these numbers (the stability of his FF/60) there would be no reason to expect a change in his even strength (ES) point production this year when compared to what we saw last season. However, there are some other things that factor into Ovi's production that indicate he may be due for a slight increase this year over last - his assist totals were lower than his play warranted last season, primarily due to how poorly his offensive partners shot when he was on the ice. That trend has persisted so far this year, but it should start regressing back towards the league average at some point. When that does happen it will be reflected in Ovechkin's point totals.

Putting it all together, assuming Ovechkin doesn't see a significant downturn in on-ice goal production (which he shouldn't), the decreased goals-against will result in a further increase in his GF%.

And that's great.

Ovechkin has been a driver of puck possession, and that's what the Capitals need him to be, because that's what's going to lead to a positive goal differential... and wins. As for his current drought, with shots-for coming at a reduced rate, these bumps in the road are more likely. That's just simple math. But, a s TSN's Scott Cullen notes:

"Ovechkin’s underlying numbers have been so good, there’s not so much reason to worry about this slump, because those signs point to goals and points coming back at a more regular rate soon"

The Capitals have endured a lot of turnover over the last couple of years, but they have finally settled on a system that looks like it has the potential to be truly successful. Even though the production is not yet there, we have seen a lot of good things from Ovechkin during his first nine games under Barry Trotz, and there's reason to believe more good things are ahead.