After a big night in Minnesota on Thursday, and adding another goal Saturday night in Dallas, Alex Ovechkin finds himself back in familiar territory: the top of the NHL's goal-scoring race. The closest goal scorer to him, Patrick Kane, has 34 goals, one fewer than Ovechkin's 35. Kane has played eight more games than Ovechkin. If Ovechkin manages to hold on to that spot over the final 28 games of the season, he'll win his fourth consecutive Rocket Richard trophy (and the third of which would come after this asinine bloviating was published) and the sixth of his career.
But this time around he's doing it a little differently than he has in recent years.
Ovechkin hasn't led the League in five-on-five goals since 2008-2009, when he scored 27 in 79 games played (though it's worth noting that the following season he had 31 such goals in 72 GP, with Sidney Crosby leading the league at 33 5v5 goals in 81 games played)
On the flipside, there have only been a few occasions since 2007 in which he did not lead the League in power play goals: 2009-2010 when Steven Stamkos did it, 2010-2011 when Daniel Sedin did it, and 2011-2012 when James Neal did it. Over Ovechkin's last three Rocket Richard winning seasons, he's outscored the #2 guy on that list (Joe Pavelski twice, Stamkos once) by a combined 22 goals. Over that same period the highest he's shown up on the 5v5 scoring list is 11th, which he did in 2012-2013 and 2014-2015. Bear in mind he's had two coaches and played two positions over that stretch.
It's no secret that Ovechkin rode his extreme effectiveness on the power play to his three most recent goal-scoring titles, but his production this year is far more reminiscent of an earlier Ovechkin - the one who won back-to-back Rocket Richards in 2008 and 2009 by scoring 34 and 27 5v5 goals respectively, both tops in the NHL.
Notice how evenly split Ovi's PPG and non-PPG are over the past three years. That's a pattern that doesn't show up anywhere else during his career. And although he's still on pace for 53 goals this year, he's doing it in a manner that smacks of 25-year-old Ovi more than anything else.
Ovechkin is currently projecting to 20 PPG and 33 non-PPG goals on the year. Here's what the chart looks like if that were to flesh out in the remaining months.
2015-2016 sure looks a lot more like some of the better years of Ovechkin's early 20s than it does the last three years, doesn't it?
It's not just the outputs, either - it's the inputs as well. Take a look at Ovechkin's hextally shot charts from this year compared to last year (via war-on-ice.com):
In 2014-2015 (on the right) he continued his career M.O. of shooting from just about anywhere (as he should, possessing one of the few shots in the League that's good enough to beat a goalie from anywhere in the offensive zone), but the further from the net he was, his shot rates were higher relative to the rest of the League. Translation: Ovechkin shot more often from further away, relative to his peers.
But in 2015-2016, he's getting in closer to the net, to the "high-danger zone", and doing so at a great clip. Now, let's take a look at this same visualization for Alex in 2008-2009:
Sure seemed to be frequenting that high-danger zone more than the other areas (although really he was shooting more than everybody from everywhere).
So, let's take both of these elements -- even strength goal scoring and the areas from which Alex is shooting-- and visualize them over the years.
It's rare to see something so black and white as the above visualization. Two segments of Ovi's career (his rookie year thru 2009-2010, and then 2010-2011 thru 2014-2015) are clearly grouped together. Early in his career he scored more at even strength, scored at a higher rate, and accumulated lots of high-danger scoring chances. Now, for the first time since 2009-2010, he's performing in these categories at a level that exceeds any of his seasons from 2010 through last year.
And while Ovi is still a prolific shooter amongst his pool of peers, he's not quite firing the puck with the same prodigious volume as he did early in his career. He is, however, firing it with the same effectiveness he saw in his early and mid-twenties. See below, where Ovi's shooting numbers are presented as what they currently project to for the full season.
Note: shot attempt and scoring data were removed for 2005-2006 and 2006-2007, because this data pre-BtN era doesn't pass the sniff test.
When you put up numbers like Ovechkin does, it's easy to look past the how of it. The bottom line speaks for itself. But when you consider the guy is now thirty years old, and has been the centerpiece of the opposing team's defensive gameplan for his entire career, seeing him revive his even-strength game with incredible effectiveness is just another subplot in the incredible book of the Great Eight's magnificent career.