It’s called his “office,” the “Ovi spot” or even the “Ovi-zoid.” No matter what you name it, it’s where Alex Ovechkin does some of his best work.
Washington Capitals fans are well aware by now how potent Ovechkin is when he shoots from the left circle or above. Actually, opposing players and coaches, and pretty much everyone around the NHL, are just as aware.
It’s one of the most predictable things in hockey, but that doesn’t make it any easier to defend.
Entering Wednesday, according to statistics from NHL.com, 283 of the Russian’s 652 career goals came from the left circle or above. That’s 43.4 percent of his goals all-time. On the power play alone, 95 of Ovechkin’s 244 career tallies were one-timers from his office (38.9 percent).
It’s become his signature move, especially since the 2012-13 season when there was an uptick of these goals. Finding a comparison in hockey is difficult; it might be more apt to invoke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook, Derek Jeter’s jump-throw from shortstop or Bruce Smith’s frightening pass rush.
Some of Ovechkin’s new teammates had to cope with this while playing on their old teams’ penalty kill units — players like forward Carl Hagelin and defenseman Nick Jensen, who came to Washington via trades in February, and center Nic Dowd, who signed during free agency last year.
Jensen said Ovechkin has “the best shot in the league,” and his old Red Wings penalty kill unit focused on eliminating his opportunities.
“We tried to take him away as much as possible,” Jensen said. “What that does is that kind of takes a piece of your penalty kill and focuses a lot of resources on just that one guy. And you look at the other guys who are on this power play, and they’re no schlumps either.”
The others had similar answers: Part of what makes Ovechkin so lethal on power plays is the quality of the unit around him.
“I think the hard part is they have so many weapons. That’s what it comes down to,” Hagelin said. “If you take away Ovi, then you’ve got Oshie in the slot. You’ve obviously got Carlson now, with one of the harder shots in the league from up top. I guess as a PK you just have to pick your poison and that’s a tough one.”
Ovechkin himself doesn’t brag about his signature move, perhaps to keep a lid on whatever secrets he might have. He once told NHL.com, “I just try to do my best to shoot the puck and we’ll see what’s going to happen with it.”
Ovechkin will go down as one of the game’s all-time greats, but still — is it really that simple? Let’s analyze each part of an Ovechkin office goal, from setup to finish.
1. The zone entry
Coach Todd Reirden knows power plays forward and backward. He was in charge of the Capitals’ power play while an assistant on Barry Trotz’s staff, and it was among his duties while a Pittsburgh Penguins assistant too.
Reirden’s philosophy on gaining the offensive zone in setting up a power play is to be unpredictable — especially with the Capitals and what he called “the amount of air time” and attention their power play gets.
“It’s something that lots of teams research on how they can duplicate it. They also start to figure out ways they can stop it, too,” Reirden said. “Throughout the league it’s a challenge that we have to try to stay one step ahead.”
To that point, Reirden thinks puck recoveries are beginning to “rival” proper zone entries because teams these days are more prepared.
“That’s where T.J. Oshie takes it to a whole different level,” Reirden said. “That’s off rebounds or scrum plays or not-clean entries. He’s our worker that comes up with those pucks. Nick (Backstrom) has an unbelievable knack of being able to come out of piles with pucks as well.”
2. The pass
Whether on a power play or at even strength, Ovechkin’s office goals are most often set up by one of two positions: the defenseman at the point or the center at the half wall. For the past few seasons, that’s been John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom, respectively.
Carlson alone has tallied 19 primary assists on Ovechkin’s left-circle goals over just the past two seasons. It may sound ironic, given how Ovechkin leads the NHL in goal scoring yet again and draws so much focus, but teammate Brett Connolly thinks Carlson is adept at “not really letting anyone know who he’s going to give it to.”
“He’s not really looking at [Ovechkin] half the time anyway, so Ovi just needs a little bit of room, like we all know,” Connolly told reporters during the Capitals’ California trip last month. “If there’s a little bit of traffic in front, the goalie’s kind of looking around.”
Other times, if a team is focused on taking away Ovechkin, Carlson sees a lane to shoot. The blueliner recently won the “hardest shot” contest at the NHL All-Star Skills Competition (how would you like a puck soaring at you at 102.8 miles per hour?).
Carlson scored a power-play goal from the point position on Feb. 26 against Ottawa, but he didn’t think the Senators were expecting him to pass to No. 8.
“No, I think that they’re just trying to take (Ovechkin) away as best they can,” Carlson said. “I don’t think I’ve done a good job of (scoring) this year, but getting one tonight was nice. When they’re gonna play like that, that’s pretty much the only good look you’re gonna get, and I’ve got to make the most of it when teams do that.”
3. The shot
Then-St. Louis Blues goaltender Carter Hutton said last season that Ovechkin’s office slapper is “an almost unsave-able shot.”
“I don’t think it’s physically possible when he picks his spot to be able to save it,” said Hutton, who now plays with the Buffalo Sabres.
Let’s not get hyperbolic: The shot isn’t unstoppable. In the Capitals’ last outing Sunday against the New York Rangers, backup goalie Alexandar Georgiev saved all six of Ovechkin’s shots on goal, many of which came from the office.
At this point in the season — and at this point in his career — Ovechkin doesn’t view a game like that as anything to worry about.
“I think every player, you always try to find something new,” Ovechkin said, but “I think right now, this time of year, you don’t have to try something new because maybe it’s not gonna work. You have to stick with what you have.”
Like the zone entries, unpredictability comes into play on this step as well. Players around the league will agree that it’s different preparing for an Ovechkin office attempt because he mixes in wrist shots with slap shots, and because his shots fly in “at weird angles.”
“Most of your standard one-timers are pretty flat and they kind of rise,” Dowd said. “You watch goalies make a lot of easy saves on one-timers. But Ovi’s seems to knuckle. It dips, it dives, it rises, it moves and somehow he gets it through almost every time. It rarely ever gets blocked even though people know it’s coming.”
Hagelin has played most of his career for the Rangers and Penguins, and between division rivalries and countless playoff series, he’s stymied the Capitals many times before. But for the countless times he’s played against Ovechkin, he has just a few words to describe the shot. Words like “special” and “crazy.”
Hagelin struggles to think of any obvious comparison for Ovechkin’s shot.
“You can’t,” he said. “There’s nothing like it.”