[Wild About Numbers]: Shooting Percentage Continues To Drive Narratives

These two guys have seen both ends of the Sh% spectrum this season. - Paul Bereswill

Writers and fans have been queuing up to take shots at Mikko Koivu, Matt Moulson and Jason Pominville because of their lack of goals so far in the playoffs, but the underlying numbers suggest that they have been playing well and that their lack of goals isn't for lack of trying.

A feature of this Wild season has been extreme highs and lows in shooting percentage for players setting the tone for narratives in the media. Justin Fontaine, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville, Matt Moulson and others have been subject to this at various points this season. Shooting 20% means you're a super, clutch, goal-machine, while going through a lean patch means you're an invisible floater. In reality, forwards can go through spells where they're doing everything right and the puck just isn't going in, or spells where they're not creating much but the chances they do get are resulting in goals.

There's plenty of evidence to show that extremes in shooting percentage (Sh%) are more related to luck than skill. Some players will always be above average or below average, but the spread of shooting talent in the NHL isn't that wide and if a mid-level player is shooting 25%, he probably didn't suddenly turn into Wayne Gretzzky, it's more likely that he's just had some good shooting luck and is due some hard regression. Likewise, if a normally reliable scorer is shooting 2%, he hasn't actually forgotten how to put the puck in the net.

-Here's some more in-depth reading material on the subject, just in case you think I'm making all of this up:

1) Shooting Percentage Regression Explained

2) "[...] while shot rate (and to a lesser extent total points) are highly repeatable, shooting percentage is almost completely random"

3) Luck vs Shot Quality in Shooting Percentage

4) More on shot rates and shooting percentage

5) Fenwick correlates with scoring chances, yo.

*

So, with all of this in mind, let's look at some numbers for this year's Minnesota Wild. I have broken down the season into four quarters for each Wild forward who played significant minutes and who is involved in the playoffs. Matt Moulson's numbers count his time with the Islanders and Sabres. Cody McCormick and "Steve" Veilleux have been left out.

I have calculated the number of shots and goals each forward had and what their Sh% was in each part of the regular season and also the playoffs.


-Firstly, here is a table showing each forward's Sh% in the regular season and their career Sh%:

Sh%

Career Sh%

Justin Fontaine

16.50%

N/A

Matt Moulson

14.00%

13.60%

Jason Pominville

13.30%

11.80%

Dany Heatley

10.90%

14.50%

Erik Haula

10.70%

N/A

Nino Niederreiter

9.80%

7.00%

Matt Cooke

9.50%

11.80%

Zach Parise

11.80%

11.30%

Charlie Coyle

8.90%

10.80%

Mikael Granlund

7.70%

7.10%

Mikko Koivu

7.50%

8.80%

Kyle Brodziak

7.00%

10.20%

  • The numbers for the more inexperienced players aren't very telling, but you can see that most of the veterans finished fairly close to their career average with Heatley and Brodziak experiencing the most extreme change.

-Now, here is the table with the season broken down into 4 quarters and the playoffs for each player:

1st Quarter

2nd Quarter

3rd Quarter

4th Quarter

Playoffs

G/S

Sh%

G/S

Sh%

S

Sh%

S

Sh%

S

Sh%

BRODZIAK

2/26

7.69%

0/25

0.00%

2/27

7.41%

4/37

10.81%

3/10

30%

COOKE

3/26

11.54%

2/23

8.70%

4/28

14.29%

1/29

3.45%

0/2

0.00%

COYLE

3/35

8.57%

3/36

8.33%

1/30

3.33%

5/31

16.13%

3/15

20.00%

FONTAINE

5/28

17.86%

2/13

15.38%

5/26

19.23%

1/12

8.33%

0/2

0%

GRANLUND

1/18

5.56%

2/27

7.41%

3/32

9.38%

2/27

7.41%

2/20

10.00%

HAULA

0/13

0.00%

2/13

15.38%

1/13

7.69%

3/18

16.67%

1/18

5.56%

HEATLEY

2/33

6.06%

5/32

15.63%

3/29

10.34%

2/16

12.50%

1/9

11.11%

KOIVU

2/37

5.41%

5/31

16.13%

1/39

2.56%

3/40

7.50%

1/24

4.17%

MOULSON

8/41

19.51%

5/51

9.80%

5/45

11.10%

5/36

13.89%

1/20

5%

NIEDERREITER

3/43

6.98%

3/38

7.89%

5/41

12.20%

3/21

14.29%

2/15

13.33%

PARISE

8/78

10.26%

6/58

10.34%

9/59

15.25%

6/50

12.00%

3/36

8.33%

POMINVILLE

12/61

19.67%

5/47

10.63%

5/57

8.77%

8/60

13.33%

1/21

4.76%

  • As you can see, Sh% fluctuates wildly from quarter to quarter for every player.
  • There is no consistency between each player's regular season Sh% and their Sh% so far in the playoffs.
*

During the regular season Matt Cooke was shooting way above his career average and received a lot of praise for his offensive ability, but then his Sh% regressed, he scored once in the last quarter of the season and suddenly there were whispers of "what has he done lately?" floating around Twitter and Wild message boards. In actual fact, Cooke was playing extremely tough minutes and did well to score 10 goals in those situations while still contributing defensively.

Justin Fontaine burst onto the scene early in the season with 5 goals before his shot rate and Sh% dropped around December and he was a healthy scratch. Then his Sh% sky-rocketed again and the goals were flowing, including a hat trick against the Phoenix Coyotes, the first ever by a Wild rookie. Fontaine suddenly had a lot of support among Wild fans and hopes were high that he would provide sold depth scoring going forward (or be a top-6 forward by these poll results). But then, like clockwork, suddenly the goals stopped flowing and he only scored once in the last quarter of the season and is yet to score in the playoffs. In the end, his poor ability to generate shots caught up to him.

Mikko Koivu started the season very slowly in the goalscoring department and there was a lot of criticism from fans that he wasn't doing enough offensively. In reality, he was driving play brilliantly and was creating chances, the pucks just weren't going in. Sure enough, eventually they did start to go in and he enjoyed a better 2nd quarter of the season. Then his Sh% hit the skids big time in the 3rd quarter before recovering down the stretch. Koivu isn't a great shooter (his career average is only 8.80%) but when he's shooting 2% over a spell of games, you can be sure that it's not because he doesn't know how to shoot anymore. He had a tough year in terms of Sh%, finishing 1.3% below his career percentage and that has continued into the playoffs where he is now shooting 4.17% (good for 1 solitary goal) and, as a result, is receiving heavy flak from fans and writers.

At this point you might be inclined to say "maybe he really can't shoot anymore" but if so, what has changed in the last two years? In 2012 he shot 9.3%, last year it was 8.7% so if this persistent low Sh% in 2014 is due to lack of skill, then that would really be an amazing decline. Personally, I think he will rebound sooner rather than later and next season we will be laughing at the idea that Koivu has forgotten how to shoot. Unfortunately, if he doesn't get the pucks to start going in during these playoffs, the Wild might be done within the next couple of games.

Before the playoffs we were talking about [Pominville] maybe being the Wild's best forward, now there are people questioning whether he was really worth trading for in the first place.

Another big narrative during the regular season was the chemistry between Granlund and Pominville. As you can see in the table above, Pominville was shooting nearly 20% during the first quarter of the season, when the narrative was born. As the season went on, Pominville's Sh% naturally began to return to Earth and there was a mini-panic every time he or Granlund went a couple of games without scoring when, in reality, their all round play was actually becoming even better in terms of defence and puck possession.

While we're on the subject of Pominville, the dramatic turnaround in public opinion he has experienced is mind-boggling. Before the playoffs we were talking about him maybe being the Wild's best forward, now there are people questioning whether he was really worth trading for in the first place. The anti-Pominville sentiment stems from him only scoring once so far in the playoffs, that one goal being an empty-netter, which really isn't good enough when you are starting 66% of shifts in the offensive zone (the most on the team).

Speaking of goal scorers acquired in a deadline trade from the Buffalo Sabres, Cody McCormick Matt Moulson has experienced similar difficulties to Pominville, scoring only 1 goal so far in the playoffs. Fans have been quick to jump on his back ever since the trade was made, despite his production and all round play being very good in the regular season but now they actually have a better reason. I understand being annoyed that these star players aren't scoring goals and that is a legitimate concern, but when them not putting the puck in the net becomes accusations of "floating" or being a "turnover machine", then I get annoyed because that, for me, is lazy analysis.


-Here are shot attempt generation and puck possession stats for the Wild's forwards in the playoffs:

#

SF/60

FF/60

#

CF%

CF% Rel

1

Zach Parise

10.8

13.8

1

Mikko Koivu

61.9%

+5.8%

2

Matt Moulson

7.8

13.0

2

Jason Pominville

61.6%

+5.8%

3

Jason Pominville

8.9

12.2

3

Matt Moulson

60.6%

+4.2%

4

Nino Niederreiter

7.5

10.0

4

Zach Parise

60.2%

+3.7%

5

Erik Haula

7.2

9.7

5

Dany Heatley

59.4%

+0.5%

6

Mikko Koivu

6.5

9.5

6

Charlie Coyle

56.8%

-1.2%

7

Charlie Coyle

6.8

8.9

7

Erik Haula

56.8%

-1.1%

8

Justin Fontaine

5.9

8.3

8

Matt Cooke

56.7%

-2.2%

9

Dany Heatley

5.9

8.3

9

Mikael Granlund

56.5%

-1.7%

10

Kyle Brodziak

5.3

7.7

10

Justin Fontaine

54.5%

-4.5%

11

Mikael Granlund

5.7

7.3

11

Nino Niederreiter

52.6%

-6.6%

12

Matt Cooke

5.0

6.6

12

Kyle Brodziak

50.3%

-7.7%

  • It's pretty obvious that Matt Moulson and Jason Pominville have been doing everything they can to score more goals. They're both generating shots and shot attempts at a very good rate.
  • Koivu isn't shooting as much as the other two but that's normal for him, being more of a playmaker than a golascorer. Moulson or Parise or whoever is playing on his wing benefits from his passing.
  • If you look at the possession numbers (a good indication of how well a player is performing in an overall sense) Koivu, Pominville and Moulson are the Wild's three best. Koivu actually has the highest CF% of any player in the league during these playoffs (obviously benefited somewhat by playing the awful possession team that is the Colorado Avalanche 7 times).
  • If Matt Moulson and Pominville were floating and constantly turning pucks over as some commentators might suggest, then they wouldn't be posting +60% Corsi. What my eyes have told me is that they've both been playing fine. I've actually been pleasantly surprised by Moulson's offensive zone play outside of his "office" in the crease.
  • Pominville just looks the same as he always does: strong in one-on-one battles, working hard along the boards and showing some creativity with the puck. What I will say for him is that he has been missing the net with a lot of shots but I don't think that is really a big deal.  From what I've read, that has been an issue throughout his career and it hasn't stopped him in the past. It's possible that he just misses the net a lot because he really tries to place his shots.
  • I think perceptions that players are coasting or turning the puck over a lot when they are already struggling for goals is just mostly a case of confirmation bias. The player is under the microscope for not scoring so people start overreacting to every play they make that isn't perfect. It just takes a couple of media types with a large Twitter following to say it and suddenly everyone is saying it.
  • When you think about it, Pominville, Moulson or Koivu have just needed a couple of bounces to go their way to have 3 goals (which would tie them for 1st on the team) instead of 1 and then no one is complaining. Moulson has hit at least 2 posts in the playoffs, Pominville has been inches away a few times and I remember Koivu seeing some good chances get shut down by Varlamov. It really is a game of inches, and if that is enough to make you go from thinking that these guys are top forwards to potential healthy scratches, then you might just have a job lined up at ESPN you might need to chill out and realise that it's not always as simple as it seems.
*

In Game 3 tonight, (presuming Judd Zuglad doesn't get his wish) Matt Moulson will likely be on a line with Koivu while Pominville will be with Granlund. I could be way off there as Moulson might start on the 3rd. I imagine the Koivu line will get the tough job of shutting down the Toews line so, if Moulson is on the 3rd, he and Pominville will both get easier match-ups and will get chances to score. They just need to keep shooting the puck and doing what they have been doing so far in the playoffs and the goals will come. Hopefully, for the Wild's sake, it's sooner rather than later.


The point of this lengthy article was to show why we really need to stop overreacting to extreme highs and lows in Sh%. If a player is driving possession and generating shots at a high rate, then they are making a positive contribution to the team. Moulson is a career 13.6% guy shooting 5%, Pominville is a 11.8% guy shooting 4.76% and Koivu is a 8.8% guy shooting 4.17%. They're all driving puck possession and generating shots as well as anyone on the team. That's not bad play in my book, mostly just bad luck.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Follow me on Twitter for more hockey talk & please share this article.

Thanks to Extra Skater for all the data.

For a quick advanced stats 101, read this. For more in-depth stuff, read this.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Hockey Wilderness

You must be a member of Hockey Wilderness to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Hockey Wilderness. You should read them.

Join Hockey Wilderness

You must be a member of Hockey Wilderness to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Hockey Wilderness. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9355_tracker