Special Teams Spotlight: Shadowing Ovechkin

Welcome to Special Teams Spotlight. This is a series of shorter posts where I will comment on something I notice while tracking games. I will utilize video or gifs and combine numbers whenever possible

Over the last couple of years, there has been some discussion about whether — considering his lethal one-timer — it makes sense to shadow Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin on the power play. During my time in DC, I saw numerous teams attempt the feat, notably the Detroit Red Wings under Mike Babcock, the Toronto Maple Leafs under Randy Carlyle and the Colorado Avalanche under Patrick Roy. The results were very mixed. At times the Caps looked flummoxed by the change and indecisive in their play and resolve.

I believe that decisiveness is one of the most important qualities of a power play. If a unit knows going in where each player will be rotating to and shooting from, it leads to better timing and more confidence. A unit should have a good idea of which two or three players are most likely to score goals, and how they’re going to do it.

With the Caps it’s very clear that Ovechkin is that guy, and his office is the left faceoff circle. I wrote about Ovechkin on the power play prior to this season.

So far this year, three teams have made obvious attempts to shadow Ovechkin: The Avalanche, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. It’s important to note that the sniper only has one power play goal on a one-timer so far this year, on upwards of 70 such attempts as of last weekend. The upshot to shadowing a player on a 5-on-4 is that it effectively turns into a 4-on-3, and with less players involved on a big ice surface, the greater chance a player gets wide open. Each of these teams were likely to leave one player relatively open. For the Avs, as you will see, it ended up being slot-man T.J. Oshie. For the Pens, for a portion it was Marcus Johansson on the goal-line, and for the rest it was John Carlson at the point. For the Rangers, it was…well…just about everyone at one point. But to be fair, Dan Girardi does a pretty good job shadowing Ovi (if you don’t count the play where he handed him a goal), the rest of the unit had some issues. Check out some snippets of all that below.

The Avs appeared to be the most committed to the shadow, over a number of power plays. Overall, in 102 seconds in a shadow, Ovechkin only managed to get one shot off, a one-timer where Nathan MacKinnon didn’t quite guard him closely enough. In that time, however, Oshie registered three dangerous one-timers from the slot. He was unlucky not to score. In nine seconds of formation time where Ovechkin wasn’t subjected to a shadow, he registered two one-timers, and Oshie had another one. So either way, the Avs appeared to lose. I’m really not sure this is the answer to the Caps’ power play

It’s interesting that the two players that seemed most reluctant to stay close to Ovi were MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby. It’s not surprising, considering they don’t want to be blocking his shots, and you don’t want him blocking his shots, but if your plan is to shadow, maybe don’t put those guys out there for those PKs.

So should teams shadow Ovechkin? The jury’s still out, but I certainly wouldn’t do it at the expense of covering a slot-man as dangerous as Oshie. I would be surprised if we see the “hockey stick formation” from Roy’s squad again.