Little more than a month ago, Alex Ovechkin overtook Patrick Kane for the League lead in goal scoring and hasn't looked back. What was particularly interesting at the time was just how many of Ovechkin's goals had come at even strength - quite the change from power play-weighted ledgers of the past few years. (Note: those goals count, too.)
Ovechkin still leads the League in even-strength goals (tied with Tyler Seguin at 26 overall, and one ahead of Seguin and others tied with 21 at five-on-five), but has just one five-on-five goal in his last 13 games. In fact, he's only been on the ice for three five-on-five Caps goals in his last 11 games. That's part of the reason that Barry Trotz has shaken up his lines lately - an effort to get his superstar scorer going.
As the title of that chart indicates, that's the Caps' five-on-five shooting percentage with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the ice, month by month... with each month's shooting percentage lower than the previous month's (via Puckalytics). That's a pretty disturbing trend, though a bounce here or there and it looks a little different (and obviously we'd be looking at the November-through-February stretch to set expectations - in nearly 7,000 five-on-five minutes on-ice together since 2007, the Caps are shooting 9.04 percent, a number that dips to 8.09 if you look at the last four-plus seasons, and bumps back up to 8.35 during the Trotz Era).
But why the drop, including a woeful 3.75 since Valentine's Day? Your eyes corroborate the injury and the team's coasting as contributing factors. But there's something in the data, too, that's probably intertwined. Take a look at Ovechkin's ten-game rolling five-on-five scoring chance (SC) and shot (S) rates:
The numbers don't matter here - it's the trends that do. And the story they tell is that, early on, both scoring chances and shots were in lock-step before the shots fell off in mid-November. Interestingly, though, the scoring chances actually spiked a bit before mirroring the decline in shots. As shot rate rebounded in December, scoring chances stayed pretty flat before mirroring the rise in shots in mid-February... and then both came crashing down to whatever the current hot mess is.
The big takeaway here is that for almost all of the team's pre-New Year's hockey, the Caps' scoring chance-to-shot ratio with Ovechkin on the ice was a heck of a lot better than it has been since (which may in part be the result of the Caps playing with leads more often, as score effects tell us that the team with the lead will get better chances as their trailing opponent is forced to take more chances).
To put numbers on the ratios, per war-on-ice, the Caps' pre-January scoring-chance-to-shot ratio with Ovechkin on the ice at five-on-five was 1.01 (294 to 292); since, it's 0.83 (217 to 261). (Scoring-chance rate has dropped from 31.2 per 60 to 26.1; shot rate has increased from 26.3 to 31.4.) And the results for Ovechkin, individually, are as you might expect (i.e. bad). Below is his rolling 10-game five-on-five individual scoring chance (per game) rate (and here's a link to this chart in year-to-date form, for the intensely curious):
So Ovechkin and the Caps are getting fewer scoring chances with Ovechkin on the ice and a lower percentage of shots which are categorized as scoring chances (note: scoring chances aren't a subset of shots here, but that conclusion is still pretty clear from those ratios). Injury? Sure. Complacency? Likely. Less time with the lead? Uh huh. Puck luck? Yep. More successful game-planning against the greatest goal-scorer of his (or just about any) generation? Perhaps.
Regardless of the "why," the "what" is clear and it's not good. And if the Ovechkin-Backstrom chemistry is in a temporary funk - if "the love has gone out of the marriage" again - the Caps are fortunate enough to have another option...
Another really, really good option...
It might be time to revisit a predominantly Russian top line (with an Ovechkin-Kuznetsov pair that has put up stout numbers in their time together this season), and perhaps a possession-dominant second. Put another way, it's time to maximize the top-six...