When Alexander Ovechkin left a game against Germany at the World Hockey Championships and was taken to hospital, it was feared that he'd sustained a serious injury. Luckily for the Washington Capitals captain, the injury didn't prevent him for returning to the tournament and leading Russia to a gold medal.
Still, the injury was serious enough that Ovechkin is only just starting to feel normal again.
"I have just recovered myself," Ovechkin said of the injury in a wide-ranging interview with Dmitri Chesnokov of Yahoo! Sports. He also revealed that the injury was "a knee ligaments tear."
"We did some X-rays, sent them to Washington," Ovechkin explained. "At first I thought: ‘That’s it. My cruciate ligaments are done.’ But thank God, nothing serious. It was just a tear. I was lucky. That’s why I decided to keep playing. Because I could."
The interview also touched on Ovechkin's near league-worst plus/minus number: -35, despite leading the league in goal scoring. With Ovechkin on the ice at even strength throughout his career, the Capitals have consistently outscored their opponents (often by a wide margin), but that ugly -35 number has led to endless criticism of Ovechkin's two-way play.
That critique, misguided as it probably is, has been echoed by new Capitals head coach Barry Trotz, who has described Ovechkin as having too much "glide" in his game.
While Ovechkin is clearly relieved to have avoided winning the NHL's Green Jacket, bestowed upon the player with the lowest plus/minus rating in a season, he's also not convinced the statistic is a good way of evaluating hockey players:
I am very happy that I didn’t become the worst in the plus/minus category. I had minus-35. Steve Ott and Alex Edler jumped ahead of me. Can you imagine scoring 51 goals and getting minus-40? I would have made history [...]
With the help of the plus/minus, contracts can be obtained. Once our defenseman Jeff Schultz was plus-50. He was plus-5 in the last game. And he signed a contract for four years averaging $2.75 million [Ovechkin makes big eyes]. And then his contract was bought out, and he signed for only $700,000 a year. Jeff is a good guy. But these plus/minus stats say very little about a player himself or the game as a whole.
Ovechkin's criticism of plus/minus is compelling; he's absolutely right that the metric generally doesn't repeat. In his case, for example, his poor rating tells us more about the shooting percentages of his most regular line-mates than it does his 'effort' or 'compete level' away from the puck.