• It’s all your fault

    by  • April 29, 2012 • Hockey • 49 Comments

    In the spring of 2010, I did a post about Ovechkin and WOWY, a Tangotiger concept where you look at how people do with and without certain players to try and tease out something about their impact. Through the end of that season, Ovechkin’s impact was pretty clear: he was a Corsi monster. When he was on the ice, it tilted significantly towards the other end. Big Corsi generally means big goal diference, which means wins and all that good stuff. Ovechkin was a star.

    Since that time, Ovechkin’s suffered through two years of bad boxcars. He played 79 games in 2010-11, scoring 32-53-85 and 78 games this year, scoring 38-27-65. For most players, those are pretty decent seasons but, coming off a three year stretch in which he put up 112, 110 and 109 points, it seemed like a bit of a letdown. Neil Greenberg, who writes for the Washington Post and ESPN has done quite a bit of work showing how Ovechkin’s shooting numbers have declined. I thought I’d build on that and my previous WOWY post and poke a little deeper into it. These numbers are 5v5.

    As I indicated, there’s a bit of narrative that Ovechkin’s problems started in 2010-11. I’m not entirely convinced of this. In a sense, it started in 2009-10 and in a sense it started in 2011-12. You can see that his G/60 number plunged in 2010-11 but he’d already started to see his S/60 numbers drop – the decline in 2009-10 was covered up by his shooting percentage spiking and a fantastic year in terms of goals for. That slide has continued. This year though, there was a whole new troubling thing – suddenly the Caps are getting bombed in shots when he’s on the ice. You can see from the SF% (percentage of the total shots while Ovechkin was on the ice that were taken by the Caps) and the SFON/60 that he sort of, well, cratered this year. Those are the key takeaways from this table.

    I’ve added some other stuff, just for general interest. The “Other Caps w 8 on Ice” chunk shows that their performance was stunningly consistent in 2010-11, 2008-09 and 2007-08, with a spike in 2009-10 and a crash this year. The total S/60 for both teams when Ovechkin is on the ice is pretty consistent, with a slight dip this year; the puck has to be somewhere, etc. Ovechkin’s share of the Caps’ shots spiked in 2008-09 but was otherwise consistent.

    OK. So that’s a decent summary of Ovechkin’s performance. Let’s turn to the WOWY stuff now. We’ll start with Corsi events. What I’ve assembled is a table showing how the ten non-goalie Capitals who had at least 100 Corsi events in 2010-11 and 2011-12 did with and without Ovechkin in those years. As you’re probably aware, the Caps had all sorts of problems this year. Bruce Boudreau was fired. When Boudreau got fired, GM George McPhee explained it in the following terms:

    “The reason for the change was we weren’t winning, obviously, and this wasn’t a slump. You can ride out slumps. This was simply a case of the players were no longer responding to Bruce. Bruce did a terrific job here but when the players aren’t responding you have to make a change.”

    Straightforward enough. Let’s look at the Corsi WOWY.

    As it so happens, there’s something very interesting here. Remember: Ovechkin had a fine Corsi in 2010-11. The Caps enjoyed a huge shots edge when he was on the ice and it disappeared this year. You can see, looking at how the share of Corsi events that these ten players had when on the ice with Ovechkin in 2011-12 versus 2010-11 that everyone took a hit. Here’s the weird thing though, and the thing that makes me question the extent to which this was a Boudreau problem: the numbers that those guys posted without Ovechkin don’t look much different than they did last year, when the Capitals were a 107 point team instead of a 92 point team.

    Looking at the five forwards first, two of them actually saw their Corsi share improve this year when not on the ice with Ovechkin compared to last year. Backstrom saw a very slight dip. Knuble’s is a bit bigger and Laich’s is large. There are, I think, extenuating circumstances with Knuble and Laich. Laich looks to have been used much more as a hard match against the other team’s best this season than he was last year. He was first this year in QualComp amongst Caps forwards who played at least 40 games; last year he was behind Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon and Matt Hendricks. His ZoneStart fell from 53.5 to 43.1. There’s considerable evidence that his role changed and he moved into a harder job, which would explain the drop in his numbers. In any event, he experienced a far more significant decline while playing with Ovechkin than when he didn’t. Knuble had a smaller decline in Corsi% without Ovechkin than Laich; he’s getting older and also saw his ZoneStart fall, both of which would have contributed to that.

    The defencemen are the exact same story. Huge declines when on the ice with Ovechkin that dwarf any change when they weren’t. The Caps look to have matched their defencemen more aggressively this year, with Alzner and Carlson playing tougher roles while other guys had less difficult roles. On the whole though, if you look at how these ten players did in terms of Corsi percentage without Ovechkin on the ice, it’s difficult to make an argument that there was much of a change at 5v5. It looks an awful look like 2011-12 was more of the same numbers from 2010-11.

    Neil Greenberg (follow him on Twitter!) was kind enough to forward me his scoring chance data. It shows the same effect. (I think Neil copied Alzner’s data for Carlson or vice versa; I don’t think it matters). Same deal. Very small changes without Ovechkin, save for the guys whose jobs got harder or easier and then everyone gets hammered with Ovechkin.

    What about goals? These are a crude way of looking at it, because goals are so rare but, again, it’s the same thing. Slight decline in plus/minus away from Ovechkin, absolutely cratered with Ovechkin.

    Behind The Net has Ovechkin as being on the ice for 51 5v5 GF this year and 56 GA. Last year, it was 66/43. That’s a 28 goal difference swing, something like nine points in the standings. While the Capitals had other problems, you can fairly ascribe a lot of the decline to whatever happened to Ovechkin at 5v5 this year. I think it’s critical to understand that this year was something different. I’ve found a lot of the criticism of Ovechkin in the past overblown – for all the talk that he never won anything, he was producing in the playoffs and teams weren’t shutting him down. On this evidence though, it’s hard not to conclude that something specific to him was different this year.

    This, of course, doesn’t answer the question: “What in the hell is wrong with Ovechkin?” Elliotte Friedman’s touched on it a couple of times.

    The second post I’ve linked there has some interesting stuff:

    Although I disagreed with Healy on-air about making Ovechkin comfortable and playing him like crazy, Hrudey backed that idea.

    Why? Al Arbour.

    Both Healy and Hrudey loved playing for Arbour, one of the sport’s most successful coaches. And, one thing they said about Arbour was that he didn’t grind his players when things were going badly. (On the other hand, he could be very tough when things were going well.)

    Boudreau and McPhee discussed a tougher approach this past summer. Ovechkin generally had his run of the place over the past six seasons and he gave the Capitals a lot in return. There were 300 goals and millions of dollars in ticket sales. Much of that comes from him.

    But, the team never came close to doing what really matters: winning it all.

    A couple of weeks ago, I asked one Eastern Conference coach about Ovechkin. He said, “If you look at the last few Stanley Cup champions, they were led by dominant two-way forwards. Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane (who didn’t get enough credit for how good he was), Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk all dominated at both ends of the ice.”

    “Ovechkin is not there. In the defensive zone, he is above the puck all the time,” the coach added.

    Criticizing Ovechkin for always being above the puck in the defensive zone seems a little silly. I’m not sure who this coach Friedman is citing is but the name of the game is getting results. How you do it is irrelevant. I’m a terrible skater who can’t shoot by NHL standards; if I also possessed some magical ability that made my team outscore like crazy when I was on the ice, an NHL team would be crazy not to sign me.

    Blaming Ovechkin, or saying that there’s something he needs to change in his game in order for the Caps to win (before this year) seems awfully dumb too. The guy produced in the playoffs. He’s a dominant regular season player. If glory days Ovechkin is the best player on your team, you can win Stanley Cups.

    There was an even sillier story in the Washington Post this spring trying to suss out what’s wrong with Ovechkin. It had some interesting stuff though:

    “The game has changed since Alex entered the league, and we are looking for him to be a better all-around player,” Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said in an e-mail. “We want him to adapt his game to be productive within the framework of our team, not necessarily in comparison with others in the NHL.”

    In 2007, the Capitals launched a “Young Guns” marketing campaign around Ovechkin, Green, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom. On and off the ice, the group was tight-knit, driving to games together, hanging out away from the rink. A lot has changed since.

    Ovechkin has “been hanging out with a whole new set of people,” said one person with knowledge of the locker-room dynamics. Among teammates, Ovechkin remains closest to Semin, a fellow Russian. “I don’t know, things have changed. They don’t hang out as much any more and it’s caused an uncomfortable situation within the team now, the chemistry with the guys. There’s no more ‘Young Guns,’ or whatever you guys in the media called it.”

    (This one kills me. “Guy gets five years older, circle of friends changes” is not only a reality of everyone’s life, it’s referenced a lot in books about great hockey teams by the guys who played on those teams. You get older, you have new interests, some guys have wives and kids. That’s how everyone’s life works. Mike Green)

    At the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, NBC broadcaster Pierre McGuire was stationed between the teams’ benches during the quarterfinal game between Russia and Canada, so he saw the carnage up close. When it was over the Canadians had routed the Russians, 7-3.

    “I have never been part of a game as a player, coach or broadcaster, where one team got so thoroughly beat down,” McGuire said. “I’ve never seen that before. It was really something to behold. You can understand why some guys might have dented psyches after that.”

    This is like the infamous “The Olympics Broke Tommy Salo” theory that ignores the fact that Salo was awesome down the stretch in 2002 for the Oilers. Ovechkin scored 20 points in 18 games after the Olympics and added 10 in 7 games against Montreal during the playoffs. So his psyche was dented, but it didn’t REALLY manifest itself until this year. Next Habs GM, please.

    Speaking of Montreal:

    The Capitals finished that season with the league’s best regular season record but were ousted in the first round of the playoffs. Ovechkin had five goals and five assists in the seven-game series, but many around the league now credit Montreal and its coaches for devising the blueprint on defending Ovechkin.

    Crediting Montreal with the blueprint for shutting down Ovechkin is like crediting France with the blueprint for stopping German invasions. I blame Friedman for this meme – he had a column with a bunch of excellent sounding quotes from Josh Gorges and Hal Gill that I wrote about when Washington lost to Montreal; when you examined whether the data supported the quotes, it became laughably apparent that it did not.

    So, when you’re talking about why the Capitals struggled this year, I think the answer is pretty much the same as the answer to the question “Why is Ovechkin getting hammered at 5v5?” I’ve considered whether teams figured out how to defend Ovechkin better this year but it seems unlikely to me. NHL coaches are smart, obsessive types and it seems unlikely to me that it would take so long for them to figure out how to defend him. The numbers of the guys who spent time with Ovechkin in 2010-11 and 2011-12 suggests that it’s not them, it’s him. Explanations that are premised on last year having been a bad year for him (or his decline having started with the Olympics) don’t make much sense to me because there was still a lot of good stuff there, including a lot of possession going the right way.

    It’s a hell of a mystery. Washington has an astonishing amount of money invested in Ovechkin going forward and, if this is what he is now, it’s devastating for them. I would assume that Dale Hunter’s position isn’t really secure beyond this season; if I was in charge of hiring the next Capitals’ coach, whoever had the most compelling plan for fixing Ovechkin would be the guy I’d hire. It’s the difference between Caps as a perennial Cup contender and the Caps as a team that fights for the playoffs.

    About

    49 Responses to It’s all your fault

    1. Woodguy
      April 29, 2012 at

      I thought the current narrative is the he didn’t work out this summer, and was never in hockey shape this year.

      Might be true, or partially true.

    2. Tyler Dellow
      April 29, 2012 at

      I don’t say so explicitly, but I see three possibilities:

      1) He’s in crappy physical condition compared to his youth;

      2) He’s picked up injuries over the course of his career that have dulled his effectiveness;

      3) The Caps have done something monumentally stupid in terms of changing the way in which he plays.

      • Woodguy
        April 29, 2012 at

        I’d say fat and disenchanted more than system.

        Probably a combination, but being on the defensive side of the puck more means more skating when possession is gained. Being out of shape would work as a compounding influence.

        • Steve
          April 30, 2012 at

          This could have more to do with Hunter than any single other factor. In Ovechkin’s 22 games under Boudreau this season, his possession stats were good. They did not plummet until Hunter took over. Ovechkin’s boxcars rebounded toward the end of the season, but that was due to a spike in his shooting percentage.

    3. The Fingerman
      April 29, 2012 at

      You skipped one compelling reason in that Post article from earlier this year–that the new “defensive style” that the Caps are now playing–started under Boudreau, but much more strongly under Hunter–has changes him. As the article says:

      But McPhee acknowledges the team’s new system goes against everything Ovechkin has learned about hockey and it’s been a slow adjustment period.

      Could the difference in style have made him play a totally different game, one which plays against his strengths?

    4. Elliotte Friedman
      April 29, 2012 at

      Hey Tyler,

      When I initially wrote that blog about Gill, Gorges and Ovechkin — you disagreed then as you do now. Thought your argument was pretty interesting, so I went back to Gill about it. If you look at Ovechkin’s numbers in that Montreal series, he went scoreless in Game 1, then had 8 of his 10 points in the next three games — all Washington victories. (His shooting percentage was .400, four goals on 10 shots.)
      Gill said that the coaches beat it into their head that they weren’t going to win unless they prevented Ovechkin from getting to the spots he wanted to go to. Originally, they thought preventing shots was the strategy to follow, what they realized was defeding the “spot” was the better idea.

      In the last three games (all Montreal victories), he had two points (1+1) on 24 shots. I understand how you’d believe a 40 per cent shooting percentage is unsustainable and would regress, but .042 is a pretty wild swing.

      And, many opponents will still tell you one of Ovechkin’s biggest problems is his predictability. Even now, he has not adjusted enough to what happened two years ago.

      Good blog, though, even though I’m “to blame” for this.

      EF

    5. Elliotte Friedman
      April 29, 2012 at

      PS: Mike Smith was fourth on my Hart ballot

      • Derek
        April 29, 2012 at

        He would have been in my top five as well. Based on win threshold [(shots against - goals for)/shots against], Phoenix was one of the toughest teams in the league to tend goal for – the Yotes needed a 0.919 combined SV% from their goalies just to have a goal differential of 0, which is usually enough to make the playoffs as a low seed. Smith posted a 0.930 SV%. Whether or not Tippett’s system produces a shot quality outlier is a discussion for a different time but, either way, a hell of a season from a guy who was in the AHL a year ago.

    6. Tyler Dellow
      April 29, 2012 at

      Elliotte – interesting stuff from Gorges/Gill. Will take a look. That is a big swing, from 40% to 4.2% but it doesnt’ really seem that unusual to me.

      • Captain Obvious
        April 30, 2012 at

        You also have to account for the fact that Ovechkin scored the tying goal in game seven that was (incorrectly in my opinion) disallowed. If the referees make the correct call in that case the entire narrative changes.

        As to what is causing the difference now he has pretty clearly lost a step. He used to be a human highlight reel and now he’s just another pretty good player. Now as to what has caused him to lose a step, who knows, but I would be very surprised if he ever got it back.

        Ovechkin is a cautionary tale to remind us that elite talent peaks early.

      • April 30, 2012 at

        It’s a bit hazy now, but recording scoring chances in that series, I came out of it thinking the habs had, indeed, kept Ovechkin under control but were still absolutely, incredibly lucky to get trough because they utterly failed to contain Semin. #28 had a shit-ton of chances but couldn’t convert to save his life, either shooting wide or straight into Halak. Same thing with Malkin in the second round.

    7. April 29, 2012 at

      If someone made me bet real money, I’d put it all on injury. There’s ample precedent for a player becoming much worse on account of his physiological ability to perform, and very little showing that a superstar can be made ordinary thru coaching effort.

      • Devin
        April 29, 2012 at

        I’m with you here Matt. He hasn’t really changed the way he plays, and I doubt that Hunter’s system really demands dramatic changes. He still tries to beat guys one on one all the time (at bad times) and it’s not like playing LW well in your own end requires exceptional talent (see the Raffi Torres shock collar c. 2006)

        It’s gotta be injuries. The only other alternative is the guy just doesn’t really care. Doesn’t seem to fit his career or persona, though.

      • Bacon369
        April 30, 2012 at

        I have been on this theory for while now. A bad ‘off season’, be it work ethic or laziness could entirely be due to some undisclosed injury.

    8. Devin
      April 29, 2012 at

      I had the pleasure of watching a live Caps game this season. Watched the warmup and it was pretty interesting. Backstrom, OV and Semin were the only three Caps without helmets. OV and Semin particularly looked to be dogging it, joking around, sitting out reps in the drills, and weirdly stayed on late and played puck-stickball together. Now, I’m not going to say that dicking around in warmups means you’re not being an impact player, but it was pretty obvious these guys weren’t taking things seriously and they were isolated from the rest of the team who looked to be acting like, well, professionals.

      About 5 minutes into the game Semin took a ridiculous lazy offensive zone stick penalty. Guy just didn’t look to give a shit unless he’s scoring a goal (all of us who play hockey know guys like this – it’s infuriating to have them on your team regardless of how many they put up on the scoresheet on good days).

      All that aside, apparently OV put on a lot of weight in the past season or two. You don’t see him “below the puck” any more now than you ever did, so I doubt there are system reasons why he’s off. Maybe a chronic injury? He looks to lack that explosive burst these days, and just lumbers around looking to hit guys and try the toe drag every time up the ice. Back in the day Comcast DC had the “Ovechkam” and it was amazing to see how 8 never stopped moving his feet. His footspeed to me looks to be the most obvious change in his overall game. He isn’t churning and digging for shooting position, nor is he just flat out hammering pucks on goal from everywhere at the rate he used to.

      Fantastic rink and fans in DC, by the way.

      • AB
        April 30, 2012 at

        If you are going to try to make some sort of judgement about players from warmups, you should report it more accurately. Mike Green also doesn’t wear a helmet, neither does Jeff Halpern or Roman Hamrlik (pretty sure on Hamrlik but I could be wrong). Jason Arnott didn’t wear one either when he was with the Caps for a short time. Carlson and Green stay out late with Ovechkin and Semin. Usually one of the D saucer passes to Semin who shots on net and Ovechkin tries to tip it in.

        Ovechkin and Semin usually stretch next to each other on the ice, but they both join their lines for rushes and talk to other players. Semin is seen talking/being uncomfortably close to John Carlson frequently. Semin also practices saucer passes to Backstrom during every warmup. Then he and Backstrom skate in a tight circle and pass back and forth, it’s actually very impressive to watch the skill involved. I was at Backstrom’s first game back after concussion and he actually had trouble skating in the tight circle and getting his passes right on to Semin, you could tell he wasn’t quite himself because normally they do that effortlessly. The point is that Ovi and Semin don’t completely isolate themselves from their teammates during warmups, and they don’t seem to do anything that different from any of their teammates.

        • Devin
          May 2, 2012 at

          I think Green was out hurt that game. I think you’re right about Hamrlik now that you mention. In any event I’m just recounting what we and a couple Caps season ticket holders were watching and taking about that night (at length – copious amounts of beer before the puck even drops makes these little details seem really important and also tends to fuzz up the memories a little). ;)

          Anyway, I never said they isolated themselves, but you made my point for me — it seemed strange that they have their own little rituals. They seemed very casual about it all. As I said, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything by itself, I just figured I’d mention since it was the topic of heated discussions on that night. The Caps diehards weren’t too happy about the whole demeanor these guys carry around (again, could be in their heads, but they sit there night in and night out).

    9. Derek
      April 29, 2012 at

      Not to oversimplify the solution to what’s clearly a multifaceted problem, but I really wonder what kind of results we’d see if Hunter (or whomever the Caps coach happens to be next season) has the sense to shelter Ovechkin in terms of starting position. There’s no rational defense of giving Joel Ward upwards of 45% offensive zone starts considering what they’re paying him as well as the remarkable success he had driving play in Nashville while routinely starting well over 70% of his shifts in his own end. Bury Chimera/Laich/Ward against the toughest opposition and with as many defensive-zone starts as possible while giving Ovechkin-Backstrom the Sedin treatment at the other end of the ice and I think a return to his possession (and likely scoring) rates of old would follow.

      I also don’t think Marcus Johansson has much use as an NHL player, certainly not a top-six forward and definitely not a guy you want Ovechkin having to drag around the ice.

    10. eric
      April 30, 2012 at

      From Dec on Ovechkin scored at a 51 goal pace. He has adjusted his game, plays RW more, goes behind the net more. He also was in much worse physical shape last year when he put up better numbers. #1 reason for his decline in my opinion is he has many nights now during the season where he just doesn’t bring the effort. If you watched every Caps game this year you would have the opinion most Caps fans have: Only Brouwer brought it every night. Rest of these guys went thru the motions most nights.

    11. Triumph
      April 30, 2012 at

      I don’t see why it can’t be a combination of those factors. I mean, there aren’t many scorers who led the league in shots on goal year after year – the guys who have led the league in shots multiple times (Esposito, Br. Hull, P. Kariya) dropped off eventually.

      So throw in possible injury, poor coaching, and maybe some disinterest in the regular season, and you’ve got his Corsi falling off a cliff and taking everyone on the team with it.

      • Ralph
        April 30, 2012 at

        As I recall, he talked about “saving himself for the playoffs” last season. His Corsi Rel in January was basically zero, but by season’s end it was over +10, so I think there’s something real there.

    12. Komatiite
      April 30, 2012 at

      My theory is that Ovechkin was not 18 when he broke into the league. I feel like a Tea Party member for saying this, but I’d love to see Ovechkin’s real birth certificate. Guy is supposed to be about 26, but I’d argue he is closer to 30 and already declining. Maybe he really was that good as a teenager when he broke into the league, or maybe he was already 21-22 years old.

      • Ralph
        April 30, 2012 at

        He was 20. Missed his age 19 season due to the lockout…he was almost old enough to be drafted in 2003. Florida did try to pick him in 2003, arguing that because of leap years he met the requirements. Crosby, on the other hand, is one of the youngest in 2005. While AO and Sid were drafted only one year apart, AO is 23 months older.

        • Triumph
          April 30, 2012 at

          Ralph: I thought they argued that because of time zones, Alex was actually eligible for the 2003 Draft. Either way, hilarious move by Dudley.

          • dawgbone
            May 1, 2012 at

            Still one of the better uses of a 9th round pick.

            • speeds
              May 2, 2012 at

              I still kind of wonder if some team will think about burning a 7th rounder on the off chance that Justin Schultz is draft eligible.

          • Ralph
            May 3, 2012 at

            http://old.post-gazette.com/penguins/20030629nhlnot0629p5.asp

            “Florida General Manager Rick Dudley attempted in four different rounds to draft Ovechkin, arguing that, if leap-year dates were taken out of the equation, Ovechkin actually would turn 18 four days before his recognized birthday and thus have been eligible for 2003.”

          • Chan
            May 31, 2013 at

            In my opinion, the NHL just saleed their fate as being a bottom-feeder on the national sports scene. Versus handles a hockey game like Britney Spears handles fame. This is a disaster for the league. They need to be on ESPN, even in a subordinate role. The network is so all-powerful that to be truly relevant they had to go in that direction. I guess some accountant is working a budget sheet and thinking they’re making money, so stick with it. In my mind, this undoes the goodwill generated by the Winter Classic January 1st. They are idiots.

    13. d
      April 30, 2012 at

      I definitely think it’s some injury/out of shape combination. He just doesn’t have that same jump to his game. He’s been okay in this year’s playoffs, but still lacks that extra little bit that used to give him the edge when facing good defense.

    14. Buddy
      April 30, 2012 at

      I saw Russia play its final three games at the World Championship in Bratislava last year (QF, semis, bronze game), and it was interesting, to say the least, to see Ovechkin play live. I’ve never seen him live with Washington, so I’ve no idea if he plays like this in the NHL or only with Russia, but if he came inside his own zone in those three games, I missed it. Most of the time he was circling and looping at the other team’s blueline, hoping for a pass. I’m exaggerating, but only slightly. To be fair, he joined the team halfway through the tournament, but if I recall I don’t think he had any points for the Russians.

    15. Phil S
      April 30, 2012 at

      This is a great piece of analysis.

      Just a quick comment about Ovi’s attention to defence. I’m pretty sure that when he was scoring 50 and 60 goals per season he didn’t exactly remind anyone of a Selke winner back then either. So I don’t see how those comments are relevant to his recent statistical retreat. And for the record, If you’re dominating in possession, as he was, you ARE playing defence – by never letting the other team have the puck.

      • Bacon369
        April 30, 2012 at

        Actually I witnessed him back-checking his ass off during those seasons. It was one of his most notable traits in the playoffs.

    16. Lee
      April 30, 2012 at

      Some interesting quotes today from Ovy and one of his current linemates Troy Brouwer that may add some additional context to this.

      http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Hockey/NHL/Playoffs/Washington/2012/04/30/19697986.html

      “He’s gotta learn,” Brouwer said. “You see all the time he comes down the left side and those D-men are standing right up on him and he doesn’t have much of a play. He’s got to learn he’s got to come back and give himself a little more space, a little more speed and he’ll have more scoring opportunities.”

    17. Bacon369
      April 30, 2012 at

      In my opinion this sums it up the best: ” if I was in charge of hiring the next Capitals’ coach, whoever had the most compelling plan for fixing Ovechkin would be the guy I’d hire.” All the other speculation about Ovie and his issues are now officially BS for the water-cooler. Washington knows there is a problem of some kind, good management, winning management fixes them, they don’t dwell on them. I hope Teddy L. and crew don’t go all AOL with this one :)

    18. David B
      April 30, 2012 at

      I’m not saying this is the cause, nor do I generally swing towards the conspiracy theory end spectrum, but perhaps there is something to that former…what was he, the team’s chiropractor(?) who was pinched with HGH couple years ago. Normally I would dismiss it but given the NHL’s testing policy being a joke with a myriad of loopholes, namely – article 47.9 of the CBA – the Therapeutic Use Exemption. – with a doctor’s permission many illegal substances can be used in the NHL. I mean one PED related suspension in the league over the last 7 years? C’mon…and several of the Caps who were around the team at the point that the chiropractor(?) was there have also seen their numbers decline for the most part. I’m inclined to believe Ovie’s decline is of aging, perhaps the toll on his body from his physical style, but I don’t think chemical dependency can be ruled out as well although I know it’s an unfounded factor.

      • David B
        April 30, 2012 at

        btw excellent article

      • Doogie2K
        May 4, 2012 at

        I feel like someone looked into that and debunked it based on the timeline, but damned if I can think of whom offhand.

    19. Richard Thomas
      April 30, 2012 at

      THEOLDROT here, for you G&M readers. Ovechkin has simply lost his enthusiasm for the game. It became obvious to those of us who watch the game, rather than compilng numbers sbout it, after the 2010 Olympics. He is a very emotional momma’s boy (his mother negotiated his last contract and had to be called over here from Russia to get him to get a haircut and do some laundry) who was probably emotionally destroyed by the poor Russian showing in the Olympics.

      He never was capable of even token backchecking, so his “defensive skills” have not declined. He probably does not view the Stanley as a holy grail; certainly many Russians don’t. Alexander Semin, for example is in the NHL only for the money. If he could get the same money in the KHL, he would be gone. That may turn out to be the case for Ovechkin, also.

      The SABREmetricians have shown that numbers and formulae, no matter how complicated, do not indicate a player’s enthusiasm for the game. To many of great talent, it’s not a game, it’s just a job.

      • David B
        April 30, 2012 at

        not saying you’re totally wrong, it could well be your alleged “enthusiasm” or the #want factor…but the numbers associated with #want haven’t really changed in his game save for the shot totals which do not equate to his want, but may have more to do with the team’s system or the defensive schemes opposing him which was one of the main points of this article.

        ’11-’12 – 302 shots, 215 hits. 42 blocked shots
        ’10-’11 – 367 shots, 241 hits, 23 blocked shots
        ’09-’10 – 368 shots, 185 hits, 20 blocked shots
        ’08-’09 – 528 shots, 248 hits, 32 blocked shots

        so his physical play hasn’t really changed much. Sure he’s always been more of a hitter than a defender, but still, if he didn’t care, or his enthusiasm was lacking, he probably still wouldn’t be throwing his body around. In all likelihood, it’s probably a lot of factors. Mental weight from the expectations, lack of team playoff success, Olympic failure, the Crosby/Ovechkin crap, perhaps cycling off of some PED, conditioning which has been mentioned by others, the physical toll on his body (all of those knee on knee hits eventually take their toll), perhaps other injuries that haven’t been more publicized…maybe shoulder issues which traditionally derail careers…who knows. The guy could simply be worn out. Either his lower shots for totals are of his own decision to be more of a team player, or teams are doing a much better job of taking away his offensive approach. Either way, I don’t see the shot totals being so much of an “enthusiasm” issue.

    20. Brian
      April 30, 2012 at

      I wonder how much of his and/or the Caps’ decline could be linked to Mike Green being oft. Injured/ a shadow of his old self. Ppg player until 10-11, 24 pts in 49 gms last year now 12 in 32 this year. Seems to me the loss of an elite point producing dman could be the cause just as easily as any coaching philosophy change.

      • David B
        April 30, 2012 at

        agreed…that would be another factor along with Backstrom’s concussion issues alogn with Semin’s erratic-ness.

    21. David S
      April 30, 2012 at

      My theory is that Ovi has to reinvent his game.

      Remember how Michael Jordan was an amazing basketball player c 1985-89, he really made his name then as the best player ever, he was Air Jordan, he would fly from the baseline to the rim, he played above the rim, the NY Times would interview physics professors about how it was possible that everyone would jump up at the same time but Michael would still miraculously be going up while they were coming down? Then through about 1990-96 MJ couldn’t play that game above everyone else, he was no longer His Airness so his game totally changed, and he found new ways to score & dominate, the fadeaway jumper became his trademark, especially with less than a second on the clock and the game on the line. He was still dominant, but in a totally different & less spectacular way. And – particularly notably — while the teams of the earlier, more spectacular Michael always underperformed in the playoffs, never made it to the finals but got knocked off in early rounds, that latter Michael was the one who led the Bulls to an unprecedented 6 championships, two three-peats interrupted by Michael’s sojourn in minor league baseball.

      Or the way Miles Davis totally changed his style and reinvented jazz every 6-8 years for about 30 years.

      This is what Ovi needs to do. He cannot be the flashy Ovi who wowed us until about 2009 (when he got the C and the Caps picked up Knuble) who would pass between the legs of his defender (!) to himself on the far side (!!) and score, watch those still incredible Youtube videos, or the playmaker of the following period on the Backstrom-Ovi-Knuble line, so he has to find another different style and way to dominate the game. Maybe it will be what he did in game 6 vs Boston and tonight vs NY — the quick score off the faceoff draw, from the the top of the circle or the high slot, something he has always liked to do — but he can do more, I’m confident.

    22. Carlos
      May 1, 2012 at

      Heck of write up, thx. As a Caps STH for years, I’ve seen Ovi a ton. My completely ungrounded speculation is that it’s all in his head and started when the team, well threw him under the bus is too strong for it, but didn’t come out supportive of him when he got suspended. Since then I’ve seen:
      - Stubborness. You quoted from the right WaPo article but missed the most damning quote, where McPhee said they’ve begged Ovi to dump it deep on occasion and use his size/speed to terrorize D trying to retrieve it. As a fan, that’s been such a painfully obvious gap in his game but to hear the GM say Ovi refuses to do that, wow that hurt.
      - and more Stubborness. He IS far and away the most predictable star I’ve ever seen. Carry it down the LW, try to move to the center and shoot using the D as screen. Doesn’t work anymore, but he hasn’t changed up at all. Frankly this season I would have hated to skate with him because he more or less gave up passing to linemates when entering the zone.

      Most telling were the anecdotes about Al Arbour. At this level, coaches aren’t teaching technique or skills. It’s some mix of system and managing the psyche, and not in that order.

    23. May 4, 2012 at

      Ovechkin’s even-strength Fenwick ratio in 2011-12 under Boudreau: 54.5%

      Ovechkin’s even-strength Fenwick ratio in 2011-12 under Hunter: 45.4%

      Hmm.

      • Doogie2K
        May 9, 2012 at

        What about with/without Backstrom under Hunter? Remember, Backstrom did miss half the season with mush-brain.

        • May 12, 2012 at

          Backstrom’s numbers fell off a cliff too.

    24. Vic Ferrari
      May 5, 2012 at

      Terrific stuff, Tyler. I imagine it’s injury, that’s what it usually is.

      We remember the 05/06 Oilers as being a strong team that outchanced the bad guys most nights, and that’s true, the numbers bear it out. But there was a stretch between New Year’s Day and the Olympics when the Oilers were routinely getting outplayed. The Moreau-Reasoner-Pisani line had been terrific before but were brutal during that stretch. The play was dying with Fernando, and he had been the straw stirring that drink. My guess was a core injury (I always guess that :D ), Dennis was guessing leg injury, I don’t recall any betting on a flare up of ulcerative colitis.

      Didn’t help that Pronger wasn’t any hell then either … turns out he had been playing with a fractured bone in his foot.

      Having said that, it’s pretty hard to divorce Ovechkin from Backstrom with this math. My bet would be that Ovy is hurt, and the problem with the Capital’s top line is being exaggerated by the fact that Backstrom hasn’t been back on form either.

    25. chartleys
      May 5, 2012 at

      This is probably covered somewhere (note: Fenwick and I are still fuzzy) but has his QCrel and zonestarts been adjusted in any noticeable ways? Appologize if I just missed something. Hangover brain isn’t firing on all cylinders.

    26. chartleys
      May 5, 2012 at

      ice time on powerplays/60? I’d be hesitant to buy into this being all on Ovechkin, but that’s just my guess. A combination of factors but stapling your most dynamic player to the bench doesn’t seem like the best coaching strategy…That lack of confidence by a coach/team, for likely the first time in his career, could really have a bit of a snowball effect on top of other factors.

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