Maybe you thought this was going to be the year. The one where Alex Ovechkin’s production would finally slow down. It’s his fifteenth season in the League after all, and he’s a ripe (by NHL standards) 34 years of age. Well, you’d be wrong. Wrong again, most likely. Through fourteen games played in the 2019-2020 campaign, it appears that The Great Eight is simply authoring another installment in the encyclopedia of his being the exception instead of the rule.
He’s tied for second in the League in goals, has sole ownership of both shots and shot attempts, and is doing it with an allotment of ice time which he hasn’t seen since Bruce Boudreau was behind the bench.
Alex Ovechkin is off to a monster start. He's 34 and about to hit Game 1100 and just keeps going.— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) October 30, 2019
•Goals: 11 (T-2nd)
•Primary points: 18 (3rd)
•Shots on goal: 70 (1st)
•Shot attempts: 139 (no one else even has 100)
•Ice time: 21:20 (5th among forwards, his most since 10-11)
This is a heck of a start by any measure, but it even stands up to the stoutest of comparisons: other Alex Ovechkin season starts. As we can eyeball from the plot below, Ovechkin is more than keeping up with the pace set by former versions of his self.
In fact, he’s not just keeping up with the pace, he’s exceeding it by a slight margin. Ovechkin has scored a median of nine goals at the 14 games-played mark during his career. This season that number is eleven, and it’s the third season in a row that Ovechkin has scored eleven or more in his first 14 games, after a stretch of accomplishing that feat only once over the course of seven seasons from 2010 thru 2017.
As ever with Ovechkin, the how is as interesting as the what. Ovi has always been a volume shooter, but his shot rates have showed a trend of decline in recent years (although it bears noting that even with the decline in rate, his volume numbers remain elite). However, he’s made up for that by being more efficient with his shot attempts...which is to say at 5v5 he’s scoring his normal allotment of goals on a smaller yield of overall attempts. As you can see from the plot below, his rate and efficiency numbers resemble those of the two previous years more than they do the rest of his career. Certainly you don't need to be reminded that Alex won Rocket Richard trophies number seven and eight in those respective seasons.
On the powerplay, where The Great Eight has been known to dispense wholesale destruction, we see a slightly different story.
At a man to the good, Ovi’s shot rates are right on the median of what he’s accomplished his whole career, which is great to see, and perfectly in line with what he’s done the last two years. His efficiency is pretty low, however. The second lowest its been since 2007, in fact, but that’s not a point of concern yet. Some give and some take should be expected across these metrics given the early-stage sample for 2019-2020, but when it comes to Alex Ovechkin on the power play, we all know where the smart money is.
Jumping back to even-strength, it’s important to note that while Ovechkin’s shot-attempt rates have declined some in recent years, elsewhere inside that metric he’s been quietly making up the ground, and during no year has it been on greater display than 2019-2020.
So far on the 2019-2020 campaign, Ovechkin has registered a shot on goal on 58% of his 5v5 shot attempts, which considerably exceeds his previous highwater mark of 52%. Consider that Ovechkin has finished each of the last two seasons at roughly 400 5v5 shot attempts, and an average shooting percentage of around 13%. Were those numbers to hold, the increase in the percentage of his shot attempts that are on net would account for three additional goals. That may not seem like a whole lot, but Ovechkin’s margin of victory for last season’s Rocket Richard trophy was one, and only a fool would bet against The Great Eight eyeing Rocket Richard number nine in six short months’ time.
The how of Ovechkin’s goal scoring is liable to change in some minor ways as the season goes on, but the more important what — goals, and lots of them — appears as if it will be reliable as ever.
data: Corsica, NHL.com