Overreaction Theater: Ovechkin, Rielly, Hurricanes & More

This is the initial installment of what I intend to be a series of weekly articles I call ‘Overreaction Theaters.’ The idea is that I look at stats and trends, typically outliers from the norm, and make broad statements about them based on how each stat or trend projects before determining if my initial claim was an overreaction or an actual possibility.

This week, I’m looking at four impressive trends, both good and bad, that have emerged in the early portions of the season. On the positive end there’s Alex Ovechkin, Morgan Rielly, and the Carolina Hurricanes, all three with strong performances so far. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the Vegas Golden Knights who have struggled to follow up last season’s success.

Ovechkin Will Have Greatest Season Ever for a 33-Year-Old

Already with eight goals in eight games, Alex Ovechkin is well on his way for his 14th straight 30-goal season and isn’t showing signs of slowing down anytime soon. At 33, his eight goals are the second-most through eight games by a player his age since the 1987-88 season, one behind Patrick Marleau’s nine from 2012-13. But because the 2012-13 season was lockout-shortened, Marleau only finished with 17 goals so Ovechkin has his sights beyond that mark.

Washington Capitals, Alex Ovechkin
With his hot start to the season, Alex Ovechkin is well on his way to having the greatest goal scoring season ever by a 33-year-old. (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Instead, he has a chance to break the all-time goal record for a 33-year-old held by Jaromir Jagr, who had 54 during the 2005-06 season. Of course it’s easy to say that with eight goals in eight games, the 82 goals Ovechkin is on-pace for will obliterate Jagr’s record, but we all know that won’t happen. But can he, in fact, break Jagr’s goal mark and become just the fourth player in history to net 50-plus goals at age 33 or older along the way?

Related: The NHL’s Exclusive 13 x 30 Club

What Ovi Needs to Do to Break Jagr’s Record

Jagr may have finished the 2005-06 season with 54 goals, but he only started with seven goals in eight games. He averaged .66 goals-per-game (G/G) and shot 14.7 percent on the season. By comparison, Ovechkin is averaging a goal per game and is converting 23.5 percent of his shots. To break Jagr’s record, Ovechkin needs 47 goals in his remaining 74 games, or an average of .64 G/G. That is a lofty goal scoring average, but it’s a mark he’s at least matched seven times, although not since 2014-15.

Can Ovechkin Get There?

Short answer is yes. Averaging .64 G/G is no simple task, but Ovechkin is more than capable of accomplishing it. As I mentioned above, his goal scoring abilities haven’t deteriorated as he’s aged, with at least a .60 G/G average in four of the past five seasons. Yet there is still reason to be pessimistic about his potential to pass Jagr, mostly surrounding his ability to maintain a shooting percentage above 20 percent. His current shooting percentage is 11 points higher than his career average and nearly nine points higher than his current career high. He also never shot higher than 14.6 percent in any of his 50-goal seasons.

Jaromir Jagr, New York Rangers
Alex Ovechkin is trying to surpass the 54 goals Jaromir Jagr netted during the 2005-06 season when he was with the New York Rangers. His total remains the most ever by a player in his age-33 season.

A regression to the norm in shooting percentage is to be expected, but that still doesn’t mean his goal total will suffer as a result. That’s because he’s currently attempting 4.25 shots-per-game (S/G), an average significantly lower than his career 4.88 S/G mark. This is especially true on the power play, where he’s attempting 23.6 shots-per-60 minutes (S/60), fourth-highest of his career, which levels out the fact that he’s shooting 25 percent on the man advantage, five points higher than his career high.

So claiming that Ovechkin will turn in the greatest goal scoring season ever by a 33-year-old ins’t an overreaction, but a strong possibility. He has seven 50-goal seasons to his name and, even though his last one came in 2015-16, he finished one shy of that mark last season. It’s also a reality because health is on his side with only 29 regular season games missed in his career.

Morgan Rielly Will Break Franchise Scoring Record

It’s an understatement to say the Toronto Maple Leafs are loaded on offense and are tied for first in the Eastern Conference as a result. One of the driving forces behind Toronto’s dynamic scoring abilities is defenseman Morgan Rielly who is coming off a great season in 2017-18 with a career-highs of 52 points, 46 assists, and 24 power play assists. Yet for as well as he played last season, he’s on a path to blow away those production levels.

Through nine games, he already has four goals and 14 points and is averaging 1.24 goals-per-60 minutes (G/60) and 4.35 points-per-60 minutes (P/60). By comparison, his personal bests are nine goals, .29 G/60, and 1.90 P/60, plus the 52 points from last season. His start is the second-best by a Maple Leafs defenseman after Bryan McCabe began the 2005-06 season with 15 points in his first nine games. McCabe finished that season with 19 goals and 68 points, both career highs, in 73 games.

Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs
Morgan Rielly has emerged as one of the game’s best offensive defensemen the past two seasons and he has a shot at having the best season in Maple Leafs history for a defenseman.(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Rielly is currently averaging .44 G/G and 1.56 P/G which project to 36 goals and 128 points over a full season, the ninth-most goals and fourth-most points by a defenseman of all-time. While there’s almost no way he maintains these averages, he doesn’t have to in order to have an elite season at his position.

A Record-Breaking Season in the Works?

Given the start he’s had, there’s a strong chance that Rielly breaks at least one franchise record for a defenseman, either beating Reg Noble’s mark of 24 goals in 1919-20, or Ian Turnbull’s 79 points in 1976-77. Based on Rielly’s current totals, he needs to score 21 goals and accumulate 66 points in the team’s final 73 games to set new franchise records. That means he needs to average at least .27 G/G and .89 P/G the rest of the way. Both scoring rates would be career highs for Rielly.

Will He Break One, Both, or Neither Record?

Given that his current career high for goals is the nine he scored in 2015-16 when he averaged .11 G/G, there’s almost no way Rielly breaks Noble’s goal record. If he scored the 25 goals necessary to break the record, they’d be the sixth-most goals by a defenseman this century and would tie for 38th-most at the position all-time. So while that’s unlikely to happen, he could surpass Turnbull’s 79 points, although it won’t be easy.

Ian Turnbull
Ian Turnbull currently holds the Maple Leafs record for points in a season by a blueliner and is the player Morgan Rielly is attempting to chase down. (mapleleafs.nhl.com)

The .89 P/G average Rielly needs the rest of the season are .21 higher than the career-high .68 he averaged last season, or 17 more points over a full season. It will be quite an undertaking, but still a doable one. That’s because he is generating more offense than ever before with 3.00 S/G when his career high is 2.39, which he set last season.

It’s not difficult seeing him maintaining his current shot rate, either, as he’s increased his shots-per-game rate every year in the league. The more shots he puts on net increases the odds of not only scoring, but also generating the rebounds that lead to opportunities for teammates, giving Rielly assists. Additionally, he averages 40 seconds more of power play ice time than any other Toronto defenseman and he will be provided with plenty of opportunity to produce, especially on a man advantage that is one of the most talented ever assembled.

Rielly, like Ovechkin, also has a history of staying healthy and has never missed more than nine games in a season. If he stays healthy this season, it’s safe to assume he sets a franchise record for points by a defenseman, making the statement truthful and not an overreaction.

Hurricanes Have Chance to Break Decades-Old Shot Record

There haven’t been many positives for the Carolina Hurricanes in recent seasons with no better than a sixth-place finish in each of the four seasons Bill Peters was behind the bench. So when new owner Tom Dundon brought in a new front office and head coach, it was expected that the 2018-19 Hurricanes would look nothing like the versions in recent seasons. And for the most part, that’s true, except in one key area: controlling five-on-five play. This season, however, with Rod Brind’Amour behind the bench, they’ve taken it to a whole new level and are dominating at a historical rate in the shot department.

Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind'Amour
With first year head coach Rod Brind’Amour behind the bench, the Hurricanes are dominating in the shot department. (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

So far this season, the Hurricanes have attempted 376 shots through nine games, 33 more than the second-place San Jose Sharks in the same number of games. Carolina has attempted 40 or more shots in six of its nine games and no other team has more than three such games. They also have 11 players who have attempted at least 20 shots, most in the league, with the Sharks again in second with 10 players.

Is That a Lot of Shots?

The simple answer is yes. The record for the most shots by a team through nine games is 378 by the 1970-71 Boston Bruins, a team that had Hall-of-Famers Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, and Johnny Bucyk on it. That team also holds the record for most shot attempts in a season with 3,166, a feat they accomplished in just 78 games for an average of 40.6 S/G. This year’s Hurricanes have averaged 34.6 S/G, which puts them on-pace for 2,837 shots in a season, 15th-most all-time and slightly ahead of last year’s Pittsburgh Penguins.

Can the Hurricanes Break the All-Time Record?

No. Even though they’re averaging nearly 35 shots a game, they’re still well behind the pace put forth by those Bruins over four decades ago. The Hurricanes would have to increase their shot attempts by eight per game, quite a feat, and they’d still be doing it in four more games than it took the Bruins.

It’s unlikely to happen because, of the six Hurricanes with at least 100 minutes of ice time and averaging more than 10 S/60 so far, only Justin Williams has a history of attempting shots at a similar rate. The remaining five consist of two rookies, Andrei Svechnikov and Warren Foegele who don’t have track records in the NHL, and three veterans who have never averaged their current shot rate for an entire season. So unless those three have turned a page in their careers, it’s unlikely that the Hurricanes maintain their shot rate.

Justin Williams Carolina Hurricanes
Of the six Hurricanes averaging at least 10 S/60, only veteran Justin Williams has a track record of averaging that many shots. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Golden Knights Have the Worst Power Play of All-Time

The 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights rode a high PDO (shooting plus save percentages) all season and surprised everyone by qualifying for the playoffs in their inaugural season. Almost all of their players set personal bests in at least one offensive category, including Marc-Andre Fleury with a .927 save percentage and William Karlsson, who shot a career-high 23.4 percent, both which contributed to the team’s elevated PDO. This season, Vegas’ PDO has regressed, not just to the norm, but to below average, and it’s greatly impacting their success.

Currently, the Golden Knights have the league’s second-lowest shooting percentage at 6.4 percent. This is especially true on the man advantage where they’ve shot a league-low 5.26 percent on the power play and it’s resulted in them converting on just two of 24 opportunities, or 8.33 percent, worst in the league. With league averages of 21 percent and six goals on the man advantage, that got me wondering, just how bad has Vegas’ power play been compared to previous seasons?

Worst Power Plays in League History

By conversion rate, the 1997-98 Tampa Bay Lightning had the worst power play in history, converting on just 9.35 percent of chances. On 353 opportunities, they netted 33 goals. It makes sense as the team finished with 17 wins and 44 points and their leading scorer accumulated 40 points.

Cody Eakin Golden Knights
Last season’s successes have been difficult to duplicate for the 2018-19 Vegas Golden Knights. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

By number of goals on the man advantage, the 2013-14 Florida Panthers are the league’s worst with 27 goals. They converted on just over 10 percent of their 269 opportunities as the team won 29 games and Nick Bjugstad led the team with 38 points. So with the current path Vegas’ power play is on, they will break the all-time record for lowest power play percentage and fewest goals scored on the man advantage.

Will Their Lackluster Power Play Continue?

Although it may seem like a great overreaction, Vegas’ power play has been, in fact, terrible. Their two power play goals through eight games tie for the 18th-fewest in the modern era (1967-Present) at this point in the season. They are one of 53 teams since 1967 to have two or fewer power play goals through eight games. Plus, they’ve had plenty of chances with at least two power play opportunities in each of their eight games. But, they still won’t be the worst power play all-time due to the upward swing they’re experiencing.

Despite not scoring a power play goal in their first six games, they have since scored a goal on the man advantage in each of their past two games, one each by Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson. Since their slow start to the season, the Golden Knights have turned their season around and are more competitive. As mentioned above, the Golden Knights have regressed quite a bit since last season, but that was to be expected and a likely improvement will soon follow.

Golden Knights center Jonathan Marchessault
Jonathan Marchessault finally broke through on Oct. 16 to give the Golden Knights their first power play goal of the season in their seventh game. (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

Of the 13 Golden Knights averaging at least one minute per game on the power play, three have yet to attempt a shot on the man advantage and eight have shooting percentages of zero. But there are reasons for optimism. On the man advantage, Vegas had a season-high 77.7 S/60 in their most recent game and have averaged better than 50 scoring chances-per-60 in each of the past two games, something they didn’t do in any of their first six games.

With the recent uptick in production, it seems safe to assume that the records held by the 1997-98 Lightning and the 2013-14 Panthers aren’t being seriously threatened by this year’s Golden Knights. This was an overreaction.

Let me know in the comments below what your thoughts are on the statements I made and whether or not you think they are overreactions.

*All stats came from Hockey-Reference and Natural Stat Trick