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The Individual Cost of a Bad Power Play

Nothing can stop Alex Ovechkin... except, perhaps, the Caps’ power play

NHL: JAN 24 Golden Knights at Capitals Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Look, we all know that the Caps’ power play has been horrendous. Like, historically bad. Like, “decline the penalty” bad.

And it’s costing them games.

Less importantly (or perhaps more importantly in your worldview - we’re not gonna judge), it’s also costing Alex Ovechkin goals as he chases down Wayne Gretzky and points as he vies for a scoring title.

Now, to be clear, Ovi owns his piece of the current extra-man woes, to the extent that they extend beyond the scheme and to the execution (which they do). But what if the power play didn’t stink out loud? What if it was... average? Or, heaven forbid, good? What if Ovi was producing on the man advantage as he has in the past? Let’s try to put some numbers on this suckitude.

To date this season, Ovechkin has seven goals and seven assists at five-on-four (which, for the sake of this exercise, we’re going to use interchangeably with “power play” and ignore other power-play scenarios). That’s not terrible! In fact, it places him 12th in the League in power play goals and 23rd in points. And that’s with the second-lowest individual 5v4 shooting percentage of his career (9.2%) and second-lowest on-ice (i.e. all Caps shots with Ovi on the ice on the power play) shooting percentage (10.2%). Bump that individual shooting percentage up to his average from the ten years prior to this one (15.9%), and his goal total jumps to 12. Even take last year’s 13.6% or the last three years’ 13.7% and he’s up over 10 goals.

And if we similarly adjust his on-ice (i.e. team) shooting percentage, the Caps would have between seven and 11 more power-play goals than the 21 they’ve scored with Ovechkin on the ice. With Ovi currently pointing on 23 of the Caps’ power-play goals for which he’s been on the ice, that’s another four-to-eight(ish) points in his bank, enough to have him at or atop the Art Ross ledger. So, based on those percentages, the Caps’ power play has cost Ovechkin three-to-five goals and four-to-eight points.

Of course, those shooting percentages are where they are in part because of the previously mentioned ineptitude of the Caps’ power play. With 22 five-on-four goals and an expected Goals-For of 23.8, the Caps aren’t running cold, they’re running bad.

Those heat maps show areas from which good power plays shoot and the areas from which the Caps shoot (the brown blobs are areas with high concentrations of shots, blue are below average shot rates). Not great!

So what if the Caps’ power play was average or good? There are currently ten teams in the League that are at 24% efficiency or better. The 16th- and 17th-rated power plays are at 19.8 and 19.9 percent. The 20th-ranked team is at 19 percent. The Caps (29th) are at 15.6 percent.

Past performance on better power plays can give us some idea how Ovechkin might be producing on a more efficient unit:

data via NatStatTrick

The way to read that table is, for example, “If Ovi was scoring at five-on-four at the rates at which he did in 2007-08, when the Caps’ power play was 18.8% successful, he would have 11 goals and 16 points this season based on the minutes he’s played.” So, if Ovi was scoring like he did in 2014-15, he’d have 18 goals and 22 points (instead of 7 and 14), the Caps would have more wins, and the engraver would be etching his name on the Hart Trophy already.

But that, of course, doesn’t happen with the current incarnation of the Caps’ power play, and though it might seem like it’s “chicken-or-the-egg” (as Ovi goes, so goes the Caps’ power play, and vice versa), it’s really not - Ovi scoring more won’t “fix” the power play, fixing the power play will get Ovi scoring more. And every game that passes before they do is costing them... and him.