It’s funny how you can tweak and manipulate stats to transform a story that’s colored by shades of gray into a black-and-white condemnation or siren call of crisis. After all, telling more than just one side of the story or considering a situation by its multiple layers sounds awfully … taxing doesn’t it? At least compared to just plopping out the same old narrative over and over again.
In an earlier playoff Dose, I pondered how amusing it can be when pundits trot out Alex Ovechkin’s admittedly awful plus/minus (-35, if you somehow didn’t hear it or more understandably forgot about it) while ignoring helpful context that paints the Washington Capitals star in at least a slightly kinder light.
Beyond scoring the most goals (51) in the league once again and outpacing everyone else by eight goals or more - it’s funny how people give a big “whatever” to scoring the most goals, which is kinda the most important thing and difficult thing to do in the sport - Ovechkin and his partner-in-crime Nicklas Backstrom were far ahead of their Capitals teams from a scoring standpoint. While they tied for the team lead with 79 points, everyone else was far behind (Joel Ward came in third with 49 points).
The criticisms of Ovechkin’s 2013-14 season have some merit (who isn’t beyond Pavel Datsyuk/Jonathan Toews/Patrice Bergeron, if that?) but are also overblown, although the real problems come in when you try to tie it into some larger narrative about the elite scorer being a bad apple.
Elliotte Friedman’s always-enlightening 30 Thoughts column from April 30 points out some “team player” work that doesn’t even get a dismissive mention by Ovechkin’s haters:
One former teammate said Ovechkin is frustrated because he didn't cause any problems when they won while Dale Hunter benched him, then moved to the right wing as Adam Oates asked -- and still gets ripped.
Is Ovechkin perfect? No, but he’s a great player whose attitude is subject to a lot of unfair speculation, some of which might be xenophobic.
Long story short, going for the easy and sexy story often means throwing out a lot of key facts for the sake of finding a shortcut. It seems like slumps have been a big topic of conversation lately, so I thought I’d go through some of them and see if they pass the “sniff test.”
OH NO, ZERO GOALS
Sidney Crosby - Oh dear. In case you were under a rock, Crosby hasn’t score a single goal in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, causing all sorts of hysterics and breathless questions about whether or not he’s injured.
Meanwhile, in those eight playoff games, Crosby has six assists and more than three shots on goal per game (28 SOG). That included six SOG in Game 2, which the Pittsburgh Penguins won despite Crosby Crisis Mode.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not ideal for Crosby to go eight games without a goal (even if he’s more of a playmaker than sniper broadly speaking). Looking at Crosby's regular season, he was scoring many goals late in the game. He didn't score a single goal in April (playoffs or regular season). Closing out the season, he went without a goal in five straight games and only found the net in one of 10 games (a two-goal night on March 30). Crosby also went seven straight games without a goal from Oct. 26 - Nov. 9 and only had a goal in one of 10 games from Oct. 26 - Nov. 16.
So what does it mean? Yes, Crosby is struggling to score goals and is off his game a little bit ... but the elite scorer has struggled to find the net before.
At least if you conveniently ignore assists (he had five assists in four games from Oct. 28 - Nov. 2, for example).
Rick Nash - The former captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets can’t seem to buy any luck in the playoffs, in general.
He doesn't have a goal despite 37 SOG in nine playoff games, but it's a larger probably; he incredibly only has two goals in 24 playoff games. That's on 89 SOG, a shooting percentage of just 2.2. Compare that to his career percentage of 12.4 and 2013-14 season percentage of 10.1 and it's obvious to say that things fall apart in the big games (even beyond this year's zero percent).
Much like with Crosby, things had been drying up for a while for Nash goals-wise before the playoffs. He only had one goal in his last six games of the regular season and only two contests in which he scored a goal (two on March 30 as well) in the last 10 games of the season.
As you may see with many scorers, Nash can be hot and cold. He only had three goals in 14 December games and then scored 11 in 15 January contests.
For fantasy owners, it should tell you that you should be patient with your snipers, particularly big guys like Nash (Jarome Iginla’s long been a hot-and-cold guy, if my memory is correct). It also spotlights how remarkable it is that Ovechkin can score so consistently.
-- The Rangers’ power play is a slump worth considering. They haven’t scored on the man advantage in seven straight games (a 0-for-25 mark in that span). Honestly, the Blueshirts have had these issues before in the John Tortorella days, so this isn’t too shocking. I wouldn’t read too much into power-play slumps from a fantasy standpoint, aside from playoff pools.
-- Instead of beating up on Crosby and Nash, maybe turn to the Minnesota Wild’s big three, at least when they face the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs. You can read about in greater detail here, but here is how Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter have performed in five games from 2013 and two from this year:
Parise: one goal, one assist, -10 rating, 26 SOG in seven games.
Koivu: zero points, -9, 16 SOG in seven GP.
Suter: zero points, -10, nine SOG in seven GP.
I’d give Parise something of a pass because his typical effort seems to be there - more from the steady SOG rather than him being the only one with points - but those are some awful numbers.
Ultimately, though, seven games played is still a small sample size and shouldn’t draw too much of a reaction. It’s just funny how certain slumps can become emboldened and fattened while others settle in under the radar.