Whether it was due to a down season last year or the disappointment of not being able to participate in the 2018 Olympics in his home country, Alex Ovechkin has started the 2017/18 campaign on absolute fire.
After scoring three goals in the season opener and then adding four more in his second game of the year, the Capitals sniper is on pace for an incredible season.
But before we get carried away and anoint Ovechkin as the best player in the National Hockey League, here are three reasons we need to keep things in perspective.
1. It’s unsustainable
This much is obvious: Ovechkin will not score 123 goals this season, the number he’s on pace to reach after collecting nine goals in his first six games.
Seven of those goals came in Ovechkin’s first two games of the year when he became the first player in 100 years to start a season with back-to-back hat tricks. Since then Ovechkin has been “limited” to two goals in his subsequent four outings. That’s still a 40-goal pace and nothing to be scoffed at, and it’s a small sample size. But his first two games were an even smaller sample size.
Speaking of sample sizes, Ovechkin hasn’t scored over 53 goals in a season since 2009. He’s been remarkably consistent (scoring 30-plus in every season since then, including three 50-goal campaigns), but he’s also coming off a 33-goal season last year – the lowest goals-per-game average in his career.
The league also won’t remain this high scoring. Over the first 79 games of the season, NHL teams are averaging 3.09 goals per contest. The last time teams averaged more goals per game than that over an entire season was 1995/96.
Power plays are also up dramatically (the 4.03 power play opportunities teams are averaging per game so far is the highest since 2008/09), and those numbers always decline as players adjust and referees put away their whistles.
2. He usually starts seasons fast
Over his 13-year career, Ovechkin has typically been at his best early in the season.
Going into Tuesday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ovechkin had scored 83 goals in 118 career games in October. Though he’s scored more goals in the months of December, January and March, his December and January goal totals (88 and 93) have both been attained in 146 career contests. March is the month in which Ovechkin has scored his most goals (96), but he’s also played in 170 games.
Ovechkin’s also proven to be a shrinking violet once springtime comes around and the Stanley Cup playoffs get underway. His goals-per-game average in postseason play is 0.475, a significant drop from the 0.6117 average he’s posted in regular-season action.
Whether Ovechkin wears down over the course of a long year or defences do a better job of keying in on him later in the season, those trends suggest we shouldn’t put too much stock in his early season pace.
3. His regular-season goal total doesn’t matter
At this point in Ovechkin’s career, he’s more than proven himself as one of the best pure goal scorers the NHL has ever seen.
A 60-goal season won’t change what we think of Ovechkin, and our opinion won’t be any different if he slows down dramatically and finishes in the 30’s or 40’s.
As he enters the twilight of his brilliant career, the thing Ovechkin needs most on his resume is a Stanley Cup ring or at least an appearance in the Cup Final.
The Capitals have won just six playoff series in Ovechkin’s career and never advanced past the second round. Those failures haven’t entirely been his fault each time, but if the Caps flame out in the postseason once again, Ovechkin’s reputation will only grow as a player who could put up regular-season numbers but couldn’t deliver when things mattered most.
It’s been a special start to the year for Ovechkin, especially coming off a subpar year last season that caused many to wonder if the Great Eight was slowing down.
However, it’s way too early to expect that Ovechkin will set any goal-scoring records in 2017/18. The small sample size, the likelihood of NHL games to become lower scoring once again and Ovechkin’s tendency to start seasons fast all point to a slowing of his ridiculous early pace.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what Ovechkin’s numbers are after 82 games this year. It’s the games after that in which we’ll be watching Ovechkin the closest.
What do you think of Ovechkin’s torrid goal-scoring pace thus far this season? Will he reach 50, 60? Let us know in the comments section below.
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