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Let’s Talk About Alexander Freaking Ovechkin

At age 34, Alex Ovechkin is having one of the most productive seasons of his already Hall-of-Fame career.

NHL: Washington Capitals at New York Islanders
This freaking guy scored on this play.
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Even after fourteen-plus seasons, 1133 regular season games played, 1261 points, and 692 goals — which, you may have heard, is tied for Steve Yzerman for ninth all-time — Alexander Ovechkin is still checking firsts off his list. Most recently, after notching two-goals against the Carolina Hurricanes, to be succeeded by back-to-back hat tricks against the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders, The Great Eight did something he had never done before: strung together three consecutive multi-goal performances.

As should be clear from this context, Ovechkin is having another superbly productive season. Forty-nine games through his 34-year-old season, Ovechkin is on pace for 57 goals, a mark that would settle in as the second best mark of his career. That by itself is an incredible feat, defying just about everything we know about aging curves. Barring a significant drop-off in his scoring rate in the season’s final 33 games, Ovechkin will crest the 50 goal ledge for the third consecutive year, with all three of those seasons coming after Ovechkin’s 30th birthday. This is notable because it would put him in the company of Phil Esposito, who is the only person in NHL history to have three fifty-goal campaigns at 30 years of age or older.

So, how’s he doing it? Let’s take a look.

Alex went through a period in his career, namely 2012-2017, where he was scoring 48-52% of his goals on the power play, and it became a popular point of view that he would feast on the power play while the inexorable passage of time continued to erode his even strength production. Suffice it to say that that’s not how things have shaken out. In fact, Ovechkin has scored 68% of his goals this season at even strength. That’s the highest share of goals to even strength by Ovechkin since 2010-11, when he scored 78% of his 32 goals at evens, in an uncharacteristic down year. Really, this years 68% mark represents only a small uptick from the 65% we saw in the two previous campaigns, and that three year stretch closely resembles Ovechkin’s 21, 22, and 23-year old seasons.

Now that we’ve established Ovechkin is very much not dependent on the power play, even acknowledging how lethal he is in those environs, let’s dive into his even-strength work, starting with his goal-scoring rate.

To put it lightly, this is not how scoring rates are supposed to mature. In 2019-20, Ovechkin is scoring even strength goals at a rate of 1.81 goals per 60 minutes of ice time, which is the second highest-mark of his career, second only to the 1.83 G/60 he put up en route to his 65-goal season in 2007-08. However, if we take a click down and look at his shot rates and his shot-attempt rates, it’s clear that something in the how is changing.

What we’re seeing here is a graceful but notable decline in Ovechkin’s shot-attempt rate (don’t fret too much — he’s still comfortably situated towards the top of the league), but a shot-rate that’s been holding pretty steady by comparison. This means that Ovechkin is getting a higher percentage of his shot attempts through to the net, which the following plot illustrates.

Around fifty-six percent of Ovi’s shot-attempts are finding their way to the net this year, which represents a career high, at least for the portion of his career for which this type of data is available. Historically, Ovechkin had always fallen somewhere between 45 and 50 percent for this metric, but has sustained a tangible increase for nearly four complete seasons now. It’s safe to say that The Great Eight has become more judicious in his shot attempts, and is achieving the desired effect. It’s also worth noting the Ovechkin’s even-strength shooting percentage is as high as it’s ever been, and this is often heralded as a sign of something unsustainable, this marks the third consecutive year that Ovi has improved his shooting percentage, and his current 15%Sh closely resembles last years 14.8%Sh. That’s a sample of around 130 games; to write this performance off as nothing more than a stroke of good fortune is lazy at best.

The curve of Ovechkin’s career is unprecedented, and there are no guarantees about the near future, but our leading indicators suggest that Ovechkin maybe hasn’t even begun his initial descent to land the plane, and that being the case, Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record, which once seemed unobtainable in our more moderate era of scoring, represents a very real possibility.

Bet against this guy at your own risk.

data via Natural Stat Trick