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Call Off the Ove-geddon: The Washington Capitals and Ovechkin Usage

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(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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Note: FYI, I typed this up Sunday afternoon, so my numbers are a little out of date.

There's been at least a few people wondering what's up with Alex Ovechkin these days, and it's a question worth asking as he's only recently shrugged off a 9-game goal-scoring drought.  It hasn't helped him that the Larry Bird to his Magic Johnson, Sidney Crosby, has been picking up goals like they were the last Cabbage Patch dolls in London.  

Ovechkin's shot totals are down (a decline that actually started last year), and more importantly his shooting percentage sits at about 3 to 4 percent lower than his career shooting, which is a bit greater decline than normal.  Maybe reasons to panic, but when looking at the data on Zone Starts and Quality of Competition/Quality of Teammates, there are plenty of reasons to think Ovechkin's just had an odd start to the year.

Before I go further, if you aren't familiar with Zone Starts or QoC/QoT, take a look at Gabe's explanations: Zone Start / Quality of Competition / Quality of Teammates.  These are a handful of ways that you can kind of "weigh" your thinking of player performances.

Let me lay out the last four years among Capitals forwards that have played 40 (20+ in 2010-11) or more games:

Ovechkin_usage_2007-08_medium

Ovechkin_usage_2008-09_medium

Ovechkin_usage_2009-10_medium

Note: This last is as of 27 games into the season.

Ovechkin_usage_2010-11_medium

As you can see, Ovechkin has gradually been given more starts in his own zone (in fact, up to the first 23 games, Ovechkin was actually tied with Chimera for second-to-the-bottom in O-Zone Start %) though, interestingly, facing some of the lowest-rated competition on the team.  Perhaps Boudreau was trying to match him with weak opponents, and as a result he put him in for more defensive zone faceoffs, or perhaps Semin's shifts have preceded Ovechkin's quite a bit this year (when they aren't together) and thus have put him in his own zone.  It's fair to say that all of Ovechkin's typical linemates (Semin, Backstrom, Knuble) aren't looking so hot with those O-Zone differentials, so that can't help.

An easy answer to the drop in O-Zone starts is that he's getting a more defensive role, but the QoC contradicts that.  I do think that the previous year (2009-10) he was given some increased defensive responsibility, but it would be reasonable to expect him to get back around to 54-56% as this year moves along.  At no point in this time was he given much shorthanded TOI, but that's as much a testament to the abilities of Chimera, Steckel, and the deliberate attempt to give Ovechkin a rest, as it is a judgment of his defensive capabilities.

In general, I just wanted to calm anybody who thinks Ovechkin is having an "off-year", as his odd usage so far has been as much to blame.  Since the last couple of weeks or so, his O-Zone Start % has been slowly rising up, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him get back to his usual self within the month.

Or as Conan says, "Be cool, my babies."