Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Power Play Paradox

With Neil Greenberg and Peerless having chimed in on Alex Ovechkin's chances at fifty goals next year, I think it's time I give it a go.

I've been a firm believer that the biggest source of Ovechkin's "down season" was the Caps' poor power play performance (I'll look at zone starts in the near future, once I get settled after moving into NY). The numbers bear that out, to an extent: Ovechkin was top three in even strength points, but well down the list in power play points.

There are two main theories as to why the Caps' power play went from first to seventeenth: puck luck and strategy. I think it's a bit of both. The puck luck element no one can control, but thankfully we can expect the Caps' power play to be above average, even if not much, based on regression to the mean alone.

The strategic part, on the other hand, one can control, and it poses a problem for Ovechkin. I think what we've learned over the past couple of years is that the Caps' offense runs through Ovechkin much more than we'd realized. Neil had a nice post earlier in the year illustrating how Ovechkin's set of shots on the power play was from further out than in past years. In other words, teams were actively taking away any ability he had to get shots from the slot on the power play, and it worked wonders.

The easy way to fix the issue, obviously, is to run the power play through someone else. Backstrom, Green, and Semin are all great passers as well. But then how does Ovechkin rack up the big power play goals numbers he needs to hit fifty? In order to fix the power play, they'll need to show an aversion to using Ovechkin, to open him up a bit more. Even if it's just for twenty games, that's four or five potential power play goals lost for Ovechkin right there.

Flip it around now: run the power play through Ovechkin. It continues to not generate all that much, and he suffers as a result. Maybe he gets a point on 80% of on ice goals for, but if that is only thirty goals total, well... (to compare, the Young Guns were all in the mid 60s during the 09-10 season in terms of percentage of goals for in which they received a point; during that season Ovechkin had "only" 13 PPGs, down from 19 in his 56 goal campaign and 22 when he torched for 65)

And that, I feel, is going to hinder Ovechkin the most in his quest for 50-in-82. You can't simultaneously be the centerpiece of the offense all the time and expect to be successful. Not when you're "already" 26 (in three weeks). Not in today's NHL.

Given even odds and an over/under line of fifty goals for Ovechkin next season, bet the under.

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