Goal scoring is a function of opportunity, skill and luck. There is no denying that playing on the top line with Mike Knuble, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom affords Alex Ovechkin every opportunity to score goals, while his mantle full of individual NHL awards and a 52-goal pace this year attest to his high level of skill. So why does it look like Ovechkin is struggling for goals?
I say it is luck, but not "luck" in the true sense of the word.
There is a lot of work being done in the area of shot quality which makes it easy to assign probability rates to a shot becoming a goal depending on the shooter's location on the ice, the type of shot taken and the strength of play. For instance, a wristshot in the crease at even strength scores about 16 percent of the time, while a slapshot from the blueline has about a 2 percent chance of lighting the lamp. The higher a shot's probability, the more room luck has to work its fickle magic.
The shots Ovechkin has taken during 5-on-5 in the first 11 games are mostly low quality, having an average 6.7 percent chance of becoming a goal scored -- enough for dead last among Washington forwards. His five even-strength goals so far have either been really lucky, or his skill as a shooter is so high it is enough to compensate over a small sample size.
Despite Ovi's two power-play goals 13 seconds apart against Calgary, his shot selection on the man advantage has him again dead last among forwards in shot quality (7.5 percent) and only ahead of blueliners Tom Poti and Jeff Schultz overall. Equally troubling is how far away Ovechkin is shooting the puck with the power play -- an average distance of 50 feet. Compare that with the other skaters who have power-play goals -- Eric Fehr (average 20 feet), Brooks Laich (22 feet), Backstrom (22 feet) and Semin (38 feet) -- and it's easy to see why we had to wait 11 games for the Great 8's first two of the year.
Having Mike Green back to quarterbacking the power play will help, but even when Green is healthy, the shots Ovechkin has been taking during the man advantage have been of average quality.
Whichever side of the fence you fall on, we should agree that the law of averages will eventually win out, making higher-quality shots a priority if Ovechkin wants to continue a 50-goal pace. The good news is that we've seen him overcome slower starts: Ovechkin had only two goals in the first 11 games during the 2008-09 season and ended up winning the Maurice Richard Trophy with 56. The bad news is that he needed to take the second-most shots the NHL has ever seen (528) to do it.