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Alex Ovechkin: “Location, Location, Location”

For 16 seasons, Alex Ovechkin has built an “office” for his signature one-timers. This season, though, the office seems to have sprouted satellite branches.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Chances are, you do not know the name Harold Samuel. But in 1944, Samuel, the founder of a property company in England, coined the famous phrase about the three things that matter most in real estate: “Location, location, location.”

It’s an idea that is as relevant in hockey as it is in real estate - but there haven’t been many players who can be identified by a location from which they did their best work. The most famous example in hockey history might be “Wayne Gretzky’s Office,” that area behind the opponent’s net where he would set up, survey the situation, and make a deft pass or sneak out for a shot that would result in a goal.

Today, the one most hockey fans know of is “Alex Ovechkin’s Office,” the left wing circle from which he unleashes one-timers that for 17 seasons have been keeping goalies awake at night in a cold sweat. Everyone knows where it is coming from, but few have been consistently successful in stopping it.

But with time and maturity, Ovechkin has begun adding variety to his game - and while he has 11 goals in 12 games entering action against Detroit on Thursday night, not one of them has been his signature one-timer from “the office.”

Let us take a look at each of the 11 goals to date and the variety Ovechkin has brought to his game…

Goals 1 and 2.

Opponent: New York Rangers; Game 1, October 13th

Game Situation: Third period, Capitals leading 3-0 and on a power play; third period, Capitals leading 4-1 and on a penalty kill.

Washington was already 2-for-5 on power plays, and on their sixth man advantage moved the puck smartly until it arrived on the stick of John Carlson for a one-timer from the top of the offensive zone. The puck struck teammate Anthony Mantha in the chest and squirted out to goalie Alexandar Georgiev’s right, where Ovechkin was camped. Ovechkin pounced on the loose puck at the bottom of the left wing circle and snapped it into the top corner on the near side, past Georgiev’s right shoulder.

The Rangers went to a power play mid-way through the third period, but it was Evgeny Kuznetsov who controlled the puck in the defensive zone as the Caps were on a line change. When the change was completed, Kuznetsov eased his way up the left side in a manner reminiscent of Nicklas Backstrom. Having gained the red line, he sent the puck in deep to the opposite corner and took his place on the bench. The puck hit the corner boards, and Ovechkin got to it first, beating K’Andre Miller, who was caught flat-footed. Ovechkin circled to the top of the crease and flipped the puck over Georgiev’s right pad for the shorthanded goal, his first since January 3, 2009, against, oddly enough, the Rangers, the game-winner in a 2-1 win. The Caps went on to win this game, 5-1.

Goal 3.

Opponent: Tampa Bay Lightning; Game 2, October 16th

Game Situation: Second period, scoreless game.

The goal was an example of opportunity offered and accepted. Tom Wilson tried to leave a pass for Nic Dowd on the left wing, but the pass was behind Dowd, who fell in an attempt to corral the puck. Trevor van Riemsdyk followed up to try to dig the puck out a pile along the left wing boards. He managed to free it, but it slid to Ovechkin entering the offensive zone. Ovechkin circled to the middle looking for a shooting lane. Using defenseman Victor Hedman as a screen, he snapped the puck under the left arm of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, eliciting a frustrated reaction from Hedman. It would be Washington’s only goal in a 2-1 overtime loss.

Goal 4.

Opponent: Colorado Avalanche; Game 3, October 19th

Game Situation: Third period, Capitals leading 5-3

Less than a minute after the Avalanche scored a power play goal to make it a 5-3 game with just over three minutes in regulation, the Caps had a faceoff in their own zone to the right of goalie Ilya Samsonov. There was a pile up on the draw, but Evgeny Kuznetsov found the puck and slid it to Ovechkin between the circles. Ovechkin turned and flicked the puck the length of the ice for an empty net goal with 2:21 left to seal a 6-3 Capitals win.

Goal 5.

Opponent: Calgary Flames; Game 5, October 23rd

Game Situation: Second period, Calgary leading 3-2

Calgary could not control the puck in the offensive end late in the second period. It slid out of the zone, and Ovechkin collected it on the defensive side of the red line. He barreled down the left wing and with defenseman Rasmus Andersson trying to close the distance to defend Ovechkin, he wristed a shot from the top of the left wing circle past goalie Dan Vladar. Calgary would go on to win the game, however, 4-3 in overtime.

Goals 6 and 7.

Opponent: Ottawa Senators; Game 6, October 25th

Game Situation: Second period, game tied, 4-4; third period, Caps leading 6-5

The Caps gave up a three-goal lead when the Senators scored three goals in just over five minutes in the second period. The tie was broken by Ovechkin on a play that started in the defensive end for the Caps. Nikita Zaitsev’s one-timer from the top of the zone was blocked by Ovechkin, the puck rebounding into the neutral zone where Ovechkin tracked it down. Behind the Ottawa defense, Ovechkin broke in alone on goalie Filip Gustavsson in relief of starter Anton Forsberg. Ovechkin cut across the top of the crease, bot Gustavsson to expose the five hole, and slid the puck between his pads to make it a 5-4 game 16:27 into the period.

Later, with the Caps nursing a one-goal lead mid-way through the third period, Tom Wilson held the puck at the goal line to Gustavsson’s left. He found Ovechkin across the ice at the top of the left wing circle. Ovechkin took the pass and wristed the puck over Gustavsson’s right arm into the net to make it 7-5, 10:46 into the period. That would be the final score.

Goal 8.

Opponent: Detroit Red Wings; Game 7, October 25th

Game Situation: First period, scoreless game, Capitals on a power play.

With the clock dipping below one minute left in the first period and the Caps on a power play, they pulled off a nifty three-way passing play that started with Anthony Mantha at the right point sending the puck to Lars Eller at the goal line to the left of goalie Thomas Greiss. Eller saw a lane through the top of he crease and used it to find Ovechkin at the bottom of the left wing circle. His one timer was stopped by Greiss’ right pad, but the puck trickled back to Ovechkin, who converted the second chance above the prone Greiss at the 19:05 mark. The Caps would go on to give up a two-goal lead and lose in overtime to the Red Wings, 3-2.

Goal 9.

Opponent: Arizona Coyotes; Game 8, October 29th

Game Situation: Third period, Caps leading 1-0.

With under a minute left in regulation and the Caps holding a slim 1-0 lead, Ovechkin was positioned at the top of the left wing circle in the defensive zone while a battle for the puck was going on along the wall. Evgeny Kuznetsov had enough room to stick handle the puck to Ovechkin, who turned and fired the puck the length of the ice at the 19:39 mark to give the Caps a 2-0 win.

Goal 10.

Opponent: Florida Panthers; Game 10, November 4th

Game Situation: Second period, Caps trailing, 4-1.

A Gustav Forsling drive went wide for the Panthers, and the missed shot took a long rebound off the end boards. Ovechkin chased down the puck just on the defensive side of the red line and fed Lars Eller, skating by on his right. Eller skated the puck into the offensive zone and dropped it for Ovechkin entering the offensive zone. Ovechkin moved up, backing the Panther defense off, and snapped the puck over goalie Spencer Knight’s left pad on the long side 18:11 into the period. The goal started a three-goal comeback for the Caps to force overtime, but they could not get the fifth goal, Florida winning in overtime, 5-4.

Goal 11.

Opponent: Buffalo Sabres; Game 12, November 8th

Game Situation: Second period, Caps leading 2-1

Mid-way through the second period, Evgeny Kuznetsov settled a sliding puck at the right point. He passed to Dmitry Orlov at the top of the offensive zone for a wrist shot that clipped the shaft of Ovechkin’s stick from between the hash marks and past goalie Dustin Tokarski at the 8:55 mark to give the Caps a 3-1 lead on their way to a 5-3 win.

So there we have it. Eleven goals, none of them the signature one-timer from “the office.” But there are some striking things about the goals Ovechkin has scored to date. Sure, there is a decided “left side” tendency on his goal scoring, but it’s the position he plays. But only five of his nine non-empty net goals are really left-side scoring. There are the two markers from the top of the crease (goals 2 and 6 on the season) and the two from between the hash marks (goals 3 and 11).

And that leads to the next striking thing about his goal scoring – distance. Ovechkin is a high-volume shooter, but he is also a shooter from distance. This year, the average distance of his non-empty net goals is 22 feet. Three are from ten feet or closer. Ovechkin is not so much going into greasy areas to score as much as he is finding voids in the defense that allow him good looks from close range or rebounds.

Ovechkin has two empty net goals in 12 games. While that might sound terribly impressive, there are two things to consider in this area. First, he is on a pace to finish with 14 empty netters this season, which would more than double his career best (six empty netters in 2019-2020) and would far eclipse the nine empty net goals Pavel Bure recorded in 1999-2000 as the all-time best.

Second, getting empty net goals means you are on the ice late in a close game. Ovechkin has been seen as a defensive liability, fairly or unfairly, for much of his career, but he presents a unique problem for opponents looking to score an equalizer – he is fearless about shooting, and he has a goal scorer’s touch. There is the balance and tension between whatever flaws Ovechkin might have as a defender and his ability and inclination to close out games with distance shots, something head coach Peter Laviolette has accepted, to the benefit of the Caps and Ovechkin to date.

In the end, Ovechkin continues to round out his game as a goal scorer. There is the reputation that precedes his one-timer from his office, but he has added new dimensions to his game that might give him a better chance to catch Wayne Gretzky as the all-time leader in goals scored. Two players who recognized the benefits of “location, location, location,” but did not let them limit their opportunities to score in other ways.