Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

LITKE: Caps’ Ovechkin on Thin Ice

Alexander Ovechkin’s goal-scoring prowess has made the Russian forward the definitive face of the Washington Capitals franchise. Often lauded as the National Hockey League’s best pure goalscorer, Ovechkin has amassed 422 goals in 678 career games. Last season, his 51 goals were good enough to win the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy — an award given annually to the league’s top goal scorer. However, another statistic has Capitals fans worrying. Ovechkin finished third to last in the NHL in the plus-minus statistic with a minus-35 rating.

Plus-minus is a statistic used to measure a player’s effectiveness both offensively and defensively. When a goal is scored, each player on the ice for a scoring team is awarded a plus while each player on the team scored against is given a minus. Power-play goals (scored when the opposing team temporarily loses a player because of a penalty) and penalty shot goals do not count toward this total.

How should Ovechkin’s poor plus-minus be interpreted? Is the Capitals’ best player also a huge defensive liability?

Ovechkin’s defensive performance may not be as detrimental to the team as his plus-minus indicates. Since plus-minus does not include power-play scoring, Ovechkin’s prowess in that area is discounted. Ovechkin scored 24 of his 51 goals last season on the power play. His power-play goals alone would have constituted a good season for an average NHL forward.

In addition, it is difficult to interpret plus-minus as an individual statistic. The Capitals were criticized for much of last season because of their porous defense. They had the ninth-worst goals against record in the NHL, surrendering 240 goals in 82 games. While Ovechkin may be part of the problem, the defensive flaws that plagued the Capitals last season were primarily not his fault. Weak team defense certainly increases the chance of being on the ice for a goal against. In addition, the plus-minus statistic does not account for many factors, including the quality of goaltenders or defensemen.

However, while his plus-minus may not be a fair or accurate representation of his defensive play, it may at least indicate certain flaws in Ovechkin’s game. He deservedly made headlines last season after a string of poor defensive performances that did little to salvage his reputation as a liability without the puck.

Ovechkin called himself “the worst player out there” during a 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 30. He finished the game with a minus-5 rating. Later in the season Head Coach Adam Oates chastised Ovechkin after a 5-0 loss to the Dallas Stars. “Ovi quit on the play,” Oates said in reference to Ovechkin’s lazy play that led to a goal against.

Opinions vary on the degree that Ovechkin is an overall hindrance to the team. After all, he did provide 51 goals last season. In the offseason, team management has focused its efforts on team defense. A management overhaul saw Brian MacLellan take over as general manager. His first order of business was to sign Barry Trotz — a coach known for being defensively oriented. In addition, MacLellan signed a pair of marquee defensemen, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. These moves give the Capitals a far more defensive look going forward.

While Ovechkin may be prone to weak defensive play, these moves will likely fortify the team around him. With management shifting its focus to preventing goals, the Russian will be able to focus on what he does best — scoring them. This could be a deadly combination that could make Ovechkin’s plus-minus the last thing on opposing teams’ minds.

Daniel Litke is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. Capitals Hill appears every Friday.

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