Roughly eight minutes into Thursday night’s game, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin drove Detroit defenseman Mike Green into the glass, causing Green to crumble to the ground before standing back up on his skates. The Verizon Center crowd responded with applause, enjoying the sight of Ovechkin competing against a former longtime Capitals teammate in Green. It’s possible Ovechkin went unnoticed for the rest of the game.
The Capitals scored six goals against the Red Wings on 31 shots, seemingly another routine win for a Washington team that’s rolling right now. But lost in the Capitals’ scoring display was an unusually quiet night for Ovechkin. For the first time since March 12, 2o13, he didn’t record a shot on goal, snapping a streak of 315 games. Ovechkin had four hits and two missed shots in 13:54 of ice time, just one second off his career low for a full game.
The irony is that Ovechkin logged a whopping 15 shots on goal in a game against the Red Wings just last season. Is it more surprising that the streak ended or that Washington scored six goals and won without Ovechkin registering a single shot?
“I think it tells you that we’ve got multiple lines that can hurt you,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “That’s pretty rare when you think about how many games he’s played. He’s such a dynamic player. He’s such a force that I don’t think that’s going to happen too often.”
This is just the seventh game in Ovechkin’s career that he hasn’t recorded a shot on goal, according to hockey-reference.com. Through 55 games, he has 26 goals and 24 assists for 50 points, a pace that has him unlikely to reach the 50-goal plateau for a fourth straight season. His shots have been down this season, too; entering Thursday’s game he was averaging 12.74 shots per 60 minutes in all situations, down from 14.85 last season. San Jose’s Brent Burns is the league leader with 213 shots, but Ovechkin isn’t far behind with 210.
Scoring 50 goals in a season is something Ovechkin takes pride in, but Trotz said earlier this season that he believes his captain is prioritizing team success over personal accomplishments.
“He’s going to score more than 30 goals this year, but if he scores 30 goals and we’re able to go real deep in the playoffs or do something special at the next level, the ultimate, I think he would trade that any day,” Trotz said. “I think any player that plays this game would do that.”
One reason Ovechkin’s production is down this season is his reduced ice time. Trotz has lessened the load on Ovechkin and other top forwards in an effort to keep them fresher throughout the season and in the playoffs, so Ovechkin has averaged two fewer minutes per game this year. His especially low ice time on Thursday was a product of the Capitals having just one power play all game and a first-period injury to winger Andre Burakovsky disrupting the typical flow of forward lines.
“Not by design or anything,” Trotz said. “It was just trying to get certain lines out there. I was double shifting [T.J. Oshie], and he can’t go back-to-back, so that type of thing. I used [Nicklas Backstrom] a couple times. It gets muddled up when you lose a couple guys.”
Trotz doesn’t expect Ovechkin’s drought to last long. Since Jan. 1, Ovechkin has 22 points in 20 games.
“He’ll probably come back with a vengeance knowing him,” Trotz said.