Ovechkin entered the season with a streak of recording at least one shot on goal in every game since March 2013, and that came to an end earlier this month against the Detroit Red Wings. After going 315 straight games with at least one shot, he’s been held without one in three of his past seven games. Ovechkin has been shotless in a game just nine times in his career.
Ovechkin leads the team with 27 goals in 61 games this season, but is averaging the fewest shots per game (3.66) of his career, which continues to hint that the 31-year-old might be slowing down in his 12th season.
“Obviously, he’s a shooter; he’s got to get pucks to the net,” Coach Barry Trotz said after the game. ” … He’s a little off, a little bit off. Players will go through that. Ovi’s pretty streaky if you look in his past. It wouldn’t surprise me if he got 10 goals in the next five games. It’s how he operates. Sometimes, he’ll go a little bit flat there, so he’s just going through a little bit of a dry spell, I think.”
As Ovechkin has gotten older, the Capitals have tried to build a team around him talented enough that he wouldn’t be forced to carry it consistently. Washington’s scoring is as balanced as it has ever been, with 10 of the team’s 12 regular forwards all double-digit goal scorers. Washington’s first-place standing has also taken pressure off Ovechkin and his decline in goal production.
Through 61 games last season, Ovechkin had 41 goals and 18 assists. In 61 games this year, Ovechkin has 27 goals and 27 assists. He’s unlikely to reach the 50-goal plateau for a fourth straight season. Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan said the team getting more contributions from players other than Ovechkin is a good sign.
“I think it just gives us a better opportunity to win,” MacLellan said. “At some point here, we need him to assert himself in a big game. He’ll take over games. I know it’ll happen in the playoffs. We’re not relying on that. Hopefully we’re spreading our offense out, and he has his games where he just takes it over.”
Some of the drop in production is related to his decreased ice time. Mindful that Ovechkin has never missed more than 10 games in a season and plays in international competition every year for Russia, the Capitals wanted to lessen Ovechkin’s load in the regular season to help keep him fresh for the postseason. He’s always produced in the playoffs, averaging roughly a point per game, but Washington wanted to be proactive in keeping him at that pace by reducing his ice time by two minutes per game. He’s skated fewer than 16 minutes in a game eight times this season.
Players don’t typically take kindly to playing less, but MacLellan said Ovechkin has handled it well.
“I think he’s been good,” MacLellan said. “I think if you’re winning, I think it goes a long way. It’d be a different situation if we were losing, I think you’d see a lot more resistance there, like ‘Why am I doing this?’ But as long as it’s working, I think everybody’s happy.”
But even with less ice time, Ovechkin’s rate of taking shots is down. He’s averaging 9.93 shots per 60 minutes at five-on-five and 19.42 in five-on-four power-play situations. Last season, he was at 11.70 at five-on-five and 23.60 at five-on-four.
On Wednesday night in Philadelphia, Ovechkin had his second game this month without a shot, but in the third period, he muscled his way to the net and setup T.J. Oshie’s goal in the 4-1 win. The next morning, MacLellan pointed to that example as why this isn’t necessarily the season that Ovechkin’s veteran stature starts to wither.
“I don’t know that I buy into that,” MacLellan said. “The priority for me: we won 4-1. It’s not like he played a bad game. I mean, man, that great play at the end there on Oshie’s goal. He’s probably adjusting to lower ice time and not as many minutes. It’s not like we’re pushing, ‘You gotta score Ovi, you gotta score Ovi.’ No, he doesn’t. We played a good game [against Philadelphia], he didn’t get any shots, we won 4-1 and [Evgeny Kuznetsov] got two and [Nicklas Backstrom] got one and everybody’s happy.”