How to turn Ovi's minus into a plus

How to turn Ovi's minus into a plus
January 4, 2014, 2:45 pm
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Oates on goalie situation: "I just expect a good game"

By all accounts, 2013 was a great year for Alex Ovechkin. He netted 62 goals for the Capitals in the calendar year, more than any player in the NHL.

“It’s been fun,” Ovechkin said the other day. “The year [2013] was fun. Hopefully, this year is going to be much better.”

Let’s be clear about this. Ovechkin is a pure goal scorer and he’s on pace to lead the NHL with 62 goals this season. But …

Yes, there always seems to be a “but” with Ovechkin and this year it’s that nasty plus-minus next to all of those impressive offense stats.

Midway through this season Ovechkin is a team-worst minus-15.

In fact, only 10 of the 798 players who have played in the NHL this season have a worse plus-minus rating.

First, a little historical perspective.

From 2007-11, Ovechkin was a combined plus-105. In the past three seasons he’s a combined minus-21.

And yes, he notices.

“I think we have great offense,” he said, “but on the defensive side, if you look at my stats, I’m minus-13 [he was off by a few]. It’s a situation where you want to be better. If you’re going to play more responsibly in your zone it’s going to help your offense as well.”

[RELATED: Caps hit halfway mark with glass half-full]

Broken into greater detail, Ovechkin has been on the ice for 55 of the Capitals’ 125 goals this season – 33 of them coming on the power play. He’s also been on the ice for 37 goals against, all at even strength or when the Caps have been on the power play.

Which means … Ovechkin has been on the ice for 22 even-strength goals for the Capitals and 37 even-strength or man-advantage goals for their opponents.

That’s just not very good when you consider Ovechkin is logging more ice time [21:10] and more even-strength ice time [16:12] than any other Capitals forward.

“To be honest with you, it’s scoring goals 5-on-5,” Ovechkin said when asked about that minus-15. “Right now it’s a game where 5-on-5 is very hard to score. You can see most of the time power plays decide the game.

“Of course you want to score 5-on-5 but it’s hard. Everybody plays a defensive style of hockey and they put pressure on you and you play against the best lines and defensemen all the time. It’s a situation where you have to work, but it’s pretty hard in this league.”

Hard, yes. But on Thursday night Oates was provided a perfect example of how good defensive positioning turned into offensive production. Ironically, it was Ovechkin who provided the example.

Notice in this replay, how Ovechkin wheels back into the defensive zone to turn nothing [Marcus Johansson’s chip] into something [Ovechkin’s 31st goal].

“That’s why I’m on Ovi about playing more consistent 5-on-5, “ Oates said. “So [his linemates] can read him. He’s too valuable. Look at his goal. Jojo’s got no play there. If Ovi doesnlt go there, he’s got no chance [to score]. For me, it was more he went to the right spot and we got out of the zone. If he doesn’t go there, we’re in trouble.”