With three seconds left in regulation Wednesday night, Alex Ovechkin finally flashed the quick release and lethal shot he’s known for, firing a shot at Philadelphia goaltender Steve Mason during a power play. The shot on goal was Ovechkin’s first of the game, barely preserving a streak of games with at least one that dates from March 12, 2013.
Ovechkin is averaging 3.94 shots per game this season, compared to 5.04 a season ago, and while he leads the Washington Capitals with 14 goals, that’s three fewer than he had through 31 games last season.
If he maintains his current pace, he could finish with one of the least productive seasons of his high-scoring career. Ovechkin’s chances of winning a fifth straight Richard Trophy for the most goals in the league seem bleak, as Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby has 22 goals through 27 games played. More than a third of the way into the season, Crosby is one of nine players with more goals than Ovechkin .
So: Is there reason to be concerned about Washington’s captain?
“Yeah, I have concern his production’s down because we need his production to win,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said. “I know that the history will state that he will get on some hot streak here and he’ll score some goals, but if we’re going to be successful, we’ve got to have Ovi being productive.”
Ovechkin is averaging his fewest shots per game since the 2011-12 season, when he finished the season with 38 goals, just the second time in his career he has had fewer than 40 goals in a non-lockout year. Ovechkin has scored at least 50 goals in three straight seasons, but with 14 goals and nine assists, he is currently averaging the fewest points per game of his career, with 0.74, and he’s on pace for roughly 37 goals.
He hasn’t started a season like this since 2011, when he had 10 goals and 12 assists through 31 games and finished with a career-low 65 points. Ovechkin notched 50 goals and 21 assists in 79 games last season.
“Ovi carries high expectations by the fans, us, everybody to put up offensive numbers,” Trotz said. “The best way he can do that is with his line working together and finding ways how he can get open. . . . Right now, he’s had a dry spell where he hasn’t had a lot of shots. Is that a little bit of him, a little bit of his linemates, a little bit of how we’re going, or whatever? But he’s capable of going through a week where he’ll get 10 goals, and we’ll go, ‘Everything’s fine.’ He’s dynamic, and we need him to win, plain and simple.”
In the past two-plus seasons under Trotz and General Manager Brian MacLellan, the Capitals have striven to surround Ovechkin with talent to share the burden of offensive production. Evidence of the Capitals’ decreased dependence on him can be found in their past 12 games, during which he has scored just two goals while they’ve gone 7-3-2.
Part of the decline in scoring could be related to decreased minutes. He is averaging 18:46 of ice time, down from 20:19 a year ago, as the Capitals try to keep the 31-year-old fresh for later in the season. For the first time since 2011-12, Ovechkin is averaging fewer than two unblocked shot attempts per game on the power play.
Trotz said he has spoken to Ovechkin about playing detailed when he’s without the puck, something that could help regain possession more efficiently, as opposed to getting exhausted defending for an entire shift. After several practices, Ovechkin stayed on the ice late to get repetitions tipping defensemen’s point shots in front of the net, seemingly searching for a new way to score. Hours before Wednesday night’s game in Philadelphia, Ovechkin went on the ice in shorts and shoes, stickhandling a puck and then shooting it into the boards for several minutes before returning to the locker room.
“I think with Ovi he goes sometimes in little bits of spurts,” Trotz said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if he got 10 goals the next five games. That’s the way he sometimes goes.
“You know he’s going to score. As long as he’s shooting, he’s going to score. When he’s not getting those shots, then he’s not going to score a whole heck of a lot. He’s going to continue to pound that puck at the net, and they’re going to find ways to get to the back of it.”