Without a Caps game for us to consume until Friday night in Detroit, we once again turn over the controls to our Arik Parnass, with his latest edition of Capitals StatTalk. Today, Arik looks at Alex Ovechkin's chances of hauling down another Rocket Richard trophy as the league's leading goal scorer. Hope you enjoy it.
Capitals StatTalk – November 14
66 – That’s the number of goals Alex Ovechkin is on pace to score this season, presuming he plays in every remaining game (which would make 80 total). That would be a career high for the Great 8, an accomplishment that would have seemed near impossible only a few years back. Maybe more significantly, however, Ovechkin has already taken 100 shots in this young season, putting him on pace for 471, which would be his most since the 2008-2009 season, and the third most in NHL history (trailing the great Phil Esposito, who recorded 550 shots in the 1970-71 season).
Why are Ovechkin’s shot totals more significant than his goal totals at this point? The average NHL shooting percentage this year is 8.81%, and that number stays fairly stable from year to year. Sharp shooters and other top forwards tend to shoot in the low teens, while defensive defensemen and enforcers hover around the mid-single digits. Since the 2004-05 lockout, the highest individual shooting percentage over the course of a season has belonged to Brad Boyes, who shot at 20.8% en route to 43 goals in 82 games with the St. Louis Blues in 2007-08. The next year, however, he dropped down to 15%, and then 7.1% the following season. While taking shots tends to be a repeatable skill, being able to actually put them in the net often fluctuates from season to season.
14.0% - That is the rate at which Ovechkin has been converting his shots this year, which is only slightly higher than his career rate of 12.2%. That means that while 66 goals would be a significant challenge, it wouldn’t be out of the question. The year Ovechkin shot 528 times, he only score 56 goals, but the year in which he scored 65, he “only” shot 446 times. Shooting percentage is largely luck driven and looks like a roller coaster on any graph, but Ovechkin isn’t necessarily due for a regression this year.
25.9% - With the devastating injury to Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, Ovechkin’s main competition in the scoring race this year seems to be St. Louis’ Alexander Steen, whom the Capitals will see up close at the Verizon Center on Sunday. Steen, however, is shooting at 25.9%, while his career average is only 9.7%. While, as Boyes has shown, it is possible to maintain a ridiculously high shooting percentage for 80 or more games, it isn’t likely. Since the 2004-05 lockout, there have only been 12 instances of players shooting even 15% or higher, and five of those belonged to longtime forward Andrew Brunette, who liked to work around the net and picked his spots like few others.
So what does this all mean? Well while Alex Steen and Alex Ovechkin look like they could be locked in a race for top goal scorer right now, a few months down the line it wouldn’t be surprising to see the former drop down the leaderboard, seeing his puck luck regress to the mean. With Stamkos out long term, the Maurice Richard Trophy may well be Ovechkin’s to lose.