Sports

The Alex Ovechkin Playoff Narrative Has Always Been Stupid

Ovi consistently produces and got the Capitals past the Penguins and into the East final, which should finally shut people up who question his ability to deliver in the playoffs.
May 8, 2018, 8:03pm
Photo by Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

With the Washington Capitals finally slaying Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins en route to their first Eastern Conference final of the Ovi era, now is a good time to take all those dumb, lazy, and unfounded Alex Ovechkin playoff narratives and toss them right in the trash.

Because over the past decade, No. 8 has been as legit and consistent a postseason performer you could ask for, despite the hoards of criticism that have been directed at the future Hall of Famer for what many saw as the inability of a captain to get his team past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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From an individual standpoint, however, the production has always been there. With 105 points in 109 career playoff games, his point-per-game clip of 0.96 ranks fourth since 2008 among players with at least 100 postseason games, while his 54 goals are third best behind only Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. He's averaged almost a half-goal per game in his playoff career, a goal-scoring clip of .495 that ranks first among active players and eighth all time among skaters with at least 100 postseason contests.

His surface offensive numbers are sparkling, and the deeper metrics support the notion that Ovi has easily remained Washington's go-to guy come playoff time.

He ranks seventh in both game score per 60 (3.38), points per 60 (2.69) and primary points per 60 (2.10) among players with a minimum of 1,500 postseason minutes, while Ovechkin's relative Corsi percentage of 17.41 and his expected goals per 60 of 1.22 rank first over the last 11 postseasons.

In other words, the dude's always produced. He's one of the all-time greats despite boasting a relatively shitty supporting cast for most of his career. It's as if the detractors somehow believe that a single skater on a 20-man NHL roster could win a playoff series, or two, by himself.

Unfortunately for the Capitals, they know firsthand just how inaccurate that sentiment is. Unlike a sport like basketball—where a guy like LeBron James can almost single-handedly shred apart a first-place team like the Raptors with his own two hands—individual contributions are much less impactful in hockey. The best forwards in the world, a group of which Ovi is firmly apart of, play at most 21-23 minutes of a 60-minute contest, meaning your most productive weapons are on the bench for much more than half the game. That said, it's critical to have three or four lines you can throw out consistently over a long playoff run, something the Capitals have never really had going for them come spring. And when they did, they fell just short, including to a powerhouse Penguins team in seven games last year, and six the year before. The same Penguins teams that went on to win back-to-back Stanley Cups.

The old adage that assumes a great postseason player should elevate his teammates to new heights is outdated and stale. What is he supposed to do? Literally carry his teammates around the ice and shovel pucks into the net with their sticks? Become a solid stay-at-home defenseman? Put on the pads and post a couple shutouts? As a goal-scoring winger, as pure a finisher we've seen, Ovechkin's role is to create offense and put pucks in the net, and he's done all that and more.

In the series that finally saw Washington take down the Penguins after two straight playoff exits at the hands of Crosby, Malkin and Co., it was of course Ovechkin leading the way in goals and points while fittingly recording the primary assist on Evgeny Kuznetsov's series-clinching tally. This time around, Backstrom and Kuznetsov provided enough secondary offence to match Pittsburgh's potent depth, and Braden Holtby was lights out in goal. Ovechkin got more help and boom, Washington took down the defending champs. It's no coincidence.

If you want to point the finger at someone or something for Washington's past playoff failures, make sure you look right past Ovi.