Can Caps disguise Ovechkin's Achilles' heel?

Can Caps disguise Ovechkin's Achilles' heel?
March 3, 2014, 6:45 pm
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Caps give up two goal lead in loss to Philly

(Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)

With 43 goals in 58 games there is no denying Alex Ovechkin is having a monster season for the Capitals.

He is on pace to run away with his fourth Rocket Richard Trophy with 58 goals, and finish in the top five in the points race with 88.

And for that he deserves applause, especially when you consider his career-low totals from two seasons ago, when he finished with 38 goals and 65 points under Dale Hunter.

But there are also some disturbing numbers at the end of Ovechkin’s statistical ledger, numbers glaring enough to raise a red flag.

With his minus-3 against the Flyers on Sunday, Ovechkin is now a minus-21, tied for 11th worst in the NHL, and is on pace to finish the season a minus-28.

If that happens, Ovechkin will become just the eighth player in the NHL’s post-expansion era to lead the NHL in goals and finish as a minus player.

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According to Elias Sports Bureau, the others are:

  • 1968-69 Bobby Hull, Chicago 58 goals, minus-7 [missed playoffs]
  • 1989-90 Brett Hull, St. Louis 72 goals, minus-1 [eliminated 2nd round]
  • 1991-92 Brett Hull, St. Louis 70 goals, minus-2 [eliminated 1st round]
  • 1996-97 Keith Tkachuk, Phoenix 52 goals, minus-1 [eliminated 1st round]
  • 2000-01 Pavel Bure, Florida 59 goals, minus-2 [missed playoffs]
  • 2003-04 Rick Nash, Columbus 41 goals, minus-35 [missed playoffs]
  • 2003-04 Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta 41 goals, minus-10 [missed playoffs]
  • 2009-10 Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay 51 goals, minus-2 [missed playoffs]

Against the Flyers on Sunday, Ovechkin finished the game with 15 attempts at the net [6 shots on goal, 4 blocked, 5 missed the mark] but he also committed a bad giveaway on Adam Hall’s shorthanded goal in the second period, leaving the puck behind the net for teammate John Carlson, only to see Sean Couturier get there first and feed Hall for a game-tying goal.

Ovechkin was also on the ice for Claude Giroux’s game-tying goal with 65 seconds remaining and Flyers goalie Steve Mason pulled for an extra attacker. And he was on the ice, trailing the play, when Vinny Lecavalier scored the game-winner for the Flyers in the 4-on-4 overtime period.

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Clearly, Ovechkin is not solely responsible for every goal that is scored while he is on the ice. His linemates, defensemen and goaltenders must share some of that responsibility.

But if the Capitals hope to become the first NHL team in 17 years to get into the playoffs with an NHL goal leader who is also a minus player, they may need to alter their thinking about when and how to use their most productive offensive player.