Can being too good be bad for your team?
Perhaps that is the case with the Washington Capitals and their charismatic left winger Alexander Ovechkin.
While the Caps did manage to win Game Three in the Garden, but they are now down 3-1 and Ovechkin has managed one goal. But it is not for lack of trying as Ovechkin has fired 35 shots on goal; more than anyone else in the playoffs.
A friend made the comment that Ovechkin, with all of his shooting, is like the Allen Iverson of the NHL. The comparison suggested that all of AI’s shooting actually hurt his team, much like Ovechkin’s trigger-happy left wing extremism is ultimately hurting the Capitals.
However, I do believe it is a bit unfair to point out The Answer’s shooting is something unusual.
He certainly shot a ridiculous amount of shots during his years with the Sixers. But since the 2000-01 season, he has only led the league in field goal attempts once—in thehe 2002-03 season when he edged Kobe Bryant by 16 shots (1940 to 1924).
However, that is also one of two times in his career that Iverson played in all 82 games.
From 2000-01 until 2005-06, Iverson ranked either first or second in shots per game. In the 2003-04 season, he finished with 1125 shots—good enough for 31st among FGA. He only played in 48 games with a FGA of 23.4, which tied him for first with Tracy McGrady.
What is also telling is the percentage of the team’s shots that Iverson takes. During his final four full seasons in Philadelphia (before being traded), he averaged 25.6 percent of his team’s shots. To be fair, Kobe has accounted for just as many of the Lakers’ shots since the 2004-05 season.
However, the last six NBA champions have all had their leading scorer average less than 22.2 percent of their team’s total shots (Dwayne Wade was the high man in 2005-06). Four of those title winners—Boston, Detroit and the two most recent San Antonio teams to win it—were below 20 percent.
While not necessarily indicative of a team’s ability to win the title, the recent trend is that the shots be spread around. Hence, the argument is that while Iverson can get his team to the playoffs—even to the NBA Finals—being trigger happy will inevitably doom him and his team.
So, enter Alexander Ovechkin.
When he is not busy pushing local auto dealers, he is taking shots on goal—lots of them.
Since Ovechkin entered the NHL in the 2005-06 season, he has led the league in shots on goal in each of those four seasons. In fact, the gap between Ovechkin and the second place shooter is becoming increasingly larger.
- 2005-06: Ovechkin 425; Jaromir Jagr 368
- 2006-07: Ovechkin 392; Olli Jokinen 351
- 2007-08: Ovechkin 446; Henrik Zetterberg 358
- 2008-09: Ovechkin 528; Eric Staal 372
Those are incredible numbers!
To give it some gravity, Ovechkin set the record for most shots by a left winger last season! His 528 shots this season, obviously breaking his own record, came within 22 of Phil Esposito’s NHL record for shots on goal in a season.
It is also important to look at the percentage of the Capitals’ shots for which Ovechkin is accounting, as well as how many more shots he had compared to the second most shots taken.
- 2005-06: 17.4%; 240 shots more than RW Brian Willsie
- 2006-07: 17.1%; 149 shots more than RW Alexander Semin
- 2007-08: 17.6%; 212 shots more than D Mike Green
- 2008-09: 19.2%; 285 shots more than D Mike Green…more than double Green’s total
Compare that to Staal (13%), Zetterberg (12.4%), Jokinen (12.9%), and Jagr (15%) and Ovechkin is taking a ridiculous number of shots compared to his teammates.
Now, obviously Ovechkin is a great player and can score lots of goals. But how does that translate into playoff success?
Well, that is difficult to gauge with Ovechkin as he has only led the Caps to the playoffs in the last two seasons. However, last season, his third-seeded Capitals were eliminated in seven games by the Philadelphia Flyers. So far this season, the second-seeded Caps are on the brink of elimination. And it does not look like he will make it past the first round again. Maybe Tracy McGrady is a good comparison, too.
As with Iverson and recent NBA champions, I think it is necessary to look at recent Stanley Cup champs to gauge the distribution of shots among the champions.
- 2002-03: New Jersey – Patrick Elias: 9.8%; 48 shots more than John Madden
- 2003-04: Tampa Bay – Brad Richards: 9.91%; two more shots than Vincent Lecavalier
- 2005-06: Carolina – Eric Staal: 10.9%; 24 more shots than Justin Williams
- 2006-07: Anaheim – Teemu Selanne: 9.95%; five more shots than Andy McDonald
- 2007-08: Detroit – Zetterberg: 12.7%; 94 shots more than Pavel Datsyuk
What does this all mean? Well, simply based on trends, teams that have one player take an exorbitant number of shots, whether it be basketball or hockey, do not win championships. Even the runner-ups in the Stanley Cup followed a pattern similar to the champion.
However, this does not mean that teams who share the shots are definitely going to be champions. Even the Colorado Avalanche and New York Islanders—bottom feeders this season in their respective conferences—followed a pattern of sharing shots. But, it could mean good things for Detroit again. Montreal, on the other hand, looks doomed.
So is Alexander Ovechkin the A.I. of the NHL?
Well, first, it is not a measure of disrespect in terms of the abilities of both athletes. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Allen Iverson, especially his play on the 2004 U.S. men’s Olympic team. Yet I also like Ovechkin’s celebrations and exuberance, even if it does look like “those goofy soccer guys” (right Mr. Cherry?).
But in terms of being a me-first player and failing to lead his team to a title, it appears to be shaping up that way. Granted, it is early in Ovechkin’s career and he will likely have plenty of chances to lead his team through to the Finals.
But as of right now, the comparison fits.
This article first appeared on The Bleacher Report on 21 April 2009.