Anyone with even so much as passing knowledge of the National Hockey League will be aware that stopping Alexander Ovechkin is going to be a top priority for the New York Rangers. Ovechkin led the league in goals for the third time in his NHL career this season with 32. And exactly half of them came while on the powerplay.
John Buccigross, known by many as the only person at ESPN willing to acknowledge the existence of hockey, has published some pretty interesting details on his Twitter feed about how Ovechkin is effective. Let's look at the information and expand on it.
Here is a chart depicting exactly which areas of the net Ovechkin scores his goals. Of his 32 goals this season, 18 went stick-side. The good news for the Rangers is that Henrik Lundqvist is arguably the best stick-side goaltender in the NHL. Compared to the 48 goals that Lundqvist let in on his glove-side this season, only 23 beat him stick-side. You can see from the chart that 5-hole is also a somewhat popular choice for Ovechkin, and Lundqvist is also a phenomenal goaltender on low shots. The best way to beat Lundqvist is glove-side, which is an area Ovechkin seems to favor least. In sum, it's Lundqvist is a favorable matchup against the Capitals' top offensive player.
Alex Ovechkin Goals by Shot LocationLeft Circle16<<In front/slot6Point6Right Circle4>>14 on the power play
— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) April 30, 2013
Of course, Ovechkin is a threat to score from just about anywhere in the offensive zone, but these stats show that he is, by a drastic measure, most effective from the left circle. And specifically on the powerplay.
The first line of defense is simply to not take penalties. Ovechkin can't score on the powerplay if you don't take penalties. Obviously, that's easier said than done. The Rangers are the were the least penalized team in the NHL during the regular season and referees tend to become more laissez-faire once the playoffs begin. Nonetheless, penalties are of course going to happen over the course of a playoff series. But they need to be limited. Don't take offensive zone penalties. Don't end up a man down because of post-whistle stuff. No pucks unecessarily shot over the glass.
For the inevitable penalty kills, though, proper adjustments need to be made. Especially with one fewer forward on the ice, it's easy to lose track of players one is responsible for. The Rangers can't afford to leave Ovechkin open, and specifically around that left faceoff circle. Though the Capitals certainly have other weapons, I think Tortorella needs to play the percentages here. Play a strong-side defensive tactic when the puck is on the left side of the offensive zone to limit Ovechkin's time and space. By doing this, you're either forcing Ovechkin to move to an area of the ice where he is lest comfortable and proficient or you are challenging the Capitals to beat you with a Mike Green or Nicklas Backstrom.
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