There is little doubt that, barring a serious injury, Alex Ovechkin will record the 192nd 50-goal season in NHL history this season. It will be his fifth and, judging by his plus-minus, it will be his worst. One of the worst in history, for that matter.
Let’s just assume that Thursday night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets was an enormous aberration for Ovechkin. He was on the ice for all Columbus goals, which dropped his plus-minus on the season to minus-17. It was a disastrous outing. Ovechkin even admitted it himself afterward when he acknowledged he was, “the worst player out there…today I was bad.”
Let’s assume, then, that Ovechkin is just OK defensively the rest of the way and has an even plus-minus for the rest of this season. That would put him at minus-17, tying him with Blaine Stoughton for the fifth-worst plus-minus ever registered for a 50-goal scorer.
Since 1967-68, which is when plus-minus began being recorded, there have been a total of 186 50-goal seasons. The worst plus-minus ever recorded for a 50-goal man was in 1983-84, when Mike Bullard of the Pittsburgh Penguins had 51 goals and was minus-33. The next worse was Brett Hull of the St. Louis Blues in 1992-93, who was minus-27 to go along with his 54 goals. Rick Martin scored 52 goals and was minus-22 for the Buffalo Sabres in 1973-74 and Jimmy Carson was minus-19 with 55 goals for the Los Angeles Kings in 1987-88.
Of course there are many things that go into plus-minus and it’s not the perfect stat, but what good are all the goals Ovechkin scores if he’s on the ice for so many against? Not all of the goals scored by the Blue Jackets were Ovechkin’s fault, but take a look at these four and decide for yourself how much Ovechkin looks like he even has a faint interest in playing two-way hockey.
At some point, Ovechkin is going to have to decide what kind of player he wants to be. If he’s content picking up the Rocket Richard Trophy after every season and either not making the playoffs or losing in the first round, then he’s certainly on the right track. But surely it can’t be all that difficult to be a little more dogged without the puck in your own end. Certainly Ovechkin’s numbers wouldn’t suffer that badly if he played with a little more diligence defensively. In fact, his numbers might actually be better because of his ability to create things off the rush.
It’s clear Ovechkin doesn’t have the kind of team around himself right now to turn the Capitals into a serious contender. This is one of the worst defensive outfits in the league, one that has to rely on simply turning every game into a track meet and hoping it has one more goal than its opponent every night.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. It should be noted that Ovechkin regularly plays with Nicklas Backstrom as his center, a player who is diligent defensively and can only do so much.
At some point, the accountability for this has to fall to Ovechkin. It’s up to him to make the players around him better, not the other way around. And it starts with being as committed to playing defensively as he is around the net. Nobody’s asking him to become the second coming of Guy Carbonneau, but at least a minimal attention to two-way play is in order.