Alex Ovechkin: Overcoming the Playoff Doubters
The Washington Capitals are in the middle of their first Stanley Cup Final since 1998 and much has been made about the playoff career of Alex Ovechkin. There is a narrative surrounding Ovechkin and how he plays in the playoffs. His critics will be quick to point out the Capitals record in the playoffs with Ovechkin and the lack of success the team has had, until now.
This year the hit pieces have disappeared as the Capitals came back from down 0-2 against the Blue Jackets and then they exercised their demons by knocking out the Penguins and Lightning on the way to the Final against the Knights. The series is currently tied 1-1 and regardless of the outcome, this season should put the rest the “Ovechkin cannot play in the playoffs” narrative.
From an individual standpoint, Ovechkin has had one season where his individual play was not in line with how he performed in the regular season. It happened in 2013, he registered only 2 points in 7 playoff games. If you eliminate those 7 games from the sample, Ovechkin has played in 111 playoff games. In those 111 games he has registered 112 points. He has played in 1003 regular season games and has scored 1122 points. His playoff points per game is .966 and his regular season points per game is 1.12.
I think the difference can be easily explained. In the regular season the Capitals play games against bottom feeders who will not make the playoffs and the players can boost their statistics in games against weaker competition. I did some research to backup my theory and the results were interesting to say the least.
This season the Capitals and Ovechkin played 42 games against playoff teams and 40 games against nonplayoff teams. I used the most basic statistics in this analysis, because it is the easiest way to explain the fact that Ovechkin is a consistent player, regardless of the situation or opponent.
It quickly becomes obvious that Ovechkin produces points at a very similar rate, regardless of the opponent. He scored 1.05 points per game against playoff teams, 1.08 points per game against non-playoff teams and this postseason he is scoring at a clip of 1.09 points per game. In other words, Alex Ovechkin is going to score you a point of game regardless of the opponent and situation.
The idea that Ovechkin cannot perform in the playoffs was born after he scored 2 points in 7 games in 2013. His detractors have been holding that against him for a long time. Ironically enough, his points per game since that series it is 1.01, which is almost identical to his performance this postseason. The only active players with a playoff points per game better than that number are Patrick Kane, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Yet for some reason this is the first time we are seeing articles about how well he is playing in the playoffs.
Of course, the success of the team is the most important way to measure success, but Ovechkin is playing right to the level he has played at his entire playoff career. Perhaps this season he is just getting more support. Maybe three seasons ago Braden Holtby dives across the crease and Alex Tuch elevates the puck over his stick and Vegas ties the game and wins in OT. This year things look like they might be different for Ovechkin and his Capitals. Holtby dove and made the save, the supporting cast made up of players like TJ Oshie, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Jacob Vrana and Niklas Backstrom is stepping up and providing Ovechkin the necessary support. We are still awaiting news on the injury status of Evgeny Kuznetsov but winning last night after he was injured early in the game was a great start for the Capitals.
If the Capitals and Ovechkin can pull this off, especially if Kuznetsov is unable to play, the Ovechkin critics should be silenced for good. There is no reason not to expect Ovechkin to keep scoring a point per game and if Holtby gets hot the Capitals should be in the drivers’ seat heading back to Washington. In a perfect world this series goes 7 games and Ovechkin scores the winner in the 7th game. The Golden Knights have had a storybook season, so it would only be fitting if Ovechkin has a storybook ending as well.
JUSTIN WHITE is an intern AFP Analytics. Justin is a graduate of St. John Fisher College where he earned his degree in Sport Management and Statistics. He has worked with the Rochester Americans and members of their coaching staff on various analytics and statistics-based projects.