Luck is an absolutely huge factor in hockey. Think about it: the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup last year, and they had to win three Game 7's in the playoffs to get there.
We can talk about being clutch or whatever you want to say, but those were three do-or-die games, and any of them could have been decided by a bounce here or a bounce there. Especially that first round win against Montreal in overtime of Game 7.
That's an extreme example of how luck impacts the game, but let's talk about a little more obvious an example.
Take the average shot in a hockey game. In order for that shot to either go in the net or not, it depends not just on the skill of the player shooting it, but the positioning of the goaltender, the positioning of the defense, how the puck was received on the stick of the shooting player, and any number of factors that are all at least partially influenced by luck.
That's what makes shooting percentage, especially at this stage of the season, such a fun stat to examine. Want to help explain why your favorite team is scoring all kinds of goals and it doesn't seem like real life? Well, shooting percentages might give you a few clues. This works on the flip side as well, of course.
We know that generally speaking, things balance out of the course of an entire season. We know that the average team shooting percentage is just a little over 9 percent, and that generally speaking, teams are going to fall somewhere around that mark. They won't stray too far in either direction, although just how far they stray is certainly contingent on how much they suck or don't suck as a team.
We also know that players tend to fall somewhere around their career averages. Things might vary a bit based on linemates or match ups or what have you, but generally speaking, career average shooting percentage is a pretty good indicator of how a player will perform.
With all of that in mind, let's look at some of the more surprising teams in the NHL so far this season. Will their trends -- whether positive or negative -- continue throughout the rest of the year?
The Stars have shocked everybody in the West, jumping out to an 11-3 start, good for the league lead in points through 14 games. They've also scored the second-most goals in the West, and when combined with the solid goaltending they're getting from Kari Lehtonen, it seems like quite the exciting recipe.
Can they keep it up? Let's look at some of the individuals pacing the Stars' attack.
- Eric Nystrom has four goals in nine games, and considering his career high is 11 goals in 82 games back in 2009-10, you can probably already guess he won't be keeping it up. Anything is possible, I guess, but considering he's shooting at 26.7 percent right now and has a career average of just 8.6 percent, it's safe to say that he's going to come down off that cloud at some point.
- The same can certainly be said for Adam Burish, a career 8 percent shooter currently plugging along at 23.1 percent.
- Loui Eriksson can kind of go either way here. He's shooting at an extremely impressive 20 percent right now, and his career average is 14.8 percent, but he finished an 82-game season at 20.2 percent shooting in 2008-09. He scored 36 goals on 178 shots that year.
- Michael Ryder is shooting at 18.8 percent with a career average of 12.1. He'll slow down a bit.
- Mike Ribeiro has been all over the place in his career, from a high of 25.5 (!) percent in 2007-08 to a low of 8.8 percent in 2002-03. Either way, he's going to improve upon his 3.8 mark so far this season.
- A few players we can expect will improve: Brendan Morrow has an impressive 15.6 career shooting percentage, including a career high of 20 percent in 2002-03. He's currently shooting at 12.8 percent and probably won't fall much below that number, if he fails to improve. Radek Dvorak will certainly score at some point this year.
Overall, the Stars are probably going to regress a little bit as a team, but it shouldn't be too shocking a regression. Several players are off to ridiculous strong starts, but with Ribeiro and Morrow so cold to start, it likely will balance out to some extent.
We all know the Blue Jackets are horrible, but how much of it has just been bad shooting luck so far this season? Well, not much. Rick Nash is shooting a bit below his career average, RJ Umberger will improve upon his one-goal-on-14-shots pace, and Antoine Vermette will break through and score at some point. The return of Jeff Carter will certainly help as well.
But other than that, rookie Ryan Johansen probably won't continue at a 15.0 percent shooting pace, Derek Dorsett certainly won't continue at 13.3 percent and Vinny Prospal will probably stay somewhere around his current mark.
Overall, the Blue Jackets are just a pretty poor team this season. Shooting luck, whether good or bad, doesn't really seem to have much of an impact on them thus far, even if they do improve upon their 7.2 overall team shooting percentage.
The Habs are shooting at just 7.9 percent as a team, so you'd expect that number to go up one way or another. That should help their cause quite a bit, considering their current minus-4 goal differential. A little luck would help out these players in particular:
- P.K. Subban, scorer of 14 goals last season, and owner of an 0-for-46 shots streak so far this season. After just one full season of NHL play, we can't really determine a fair gauge of his shooting talent just yet, but it's safe to say he's a lot better than no goals on 46 tries.
- Mathieu Darche, who shot at 13.3 percent a year ago and owns a career percentage of 8.6, has just one goal on 22 shots so far this season.
- Scott Gomez has played just six games all year for the Habs, but he's yet to score on 13 shots. That'll probably get better. Well, you know. When he gets off the IR.
- Erik Cole has a career shooting percentage of 12.4. He's at 7.0 percent right now.
The good news for the Bruins is that they're finally scoring goals after a really tough start. The bad news is that several players have unsustainable shooting percentages.
- Like, for example, Milan Lucic, who has seven goals on 28 shots so far this season. Who knows? He shot at 17.3 percent a year ago and 17.5 percent three years ago, but 25.0 percent now? That's not going to continue.
- Nathan Horton is in the same boat as a pretty strong shooter, putting up a career average of 14.7 percent and a career high of 17.3 percent on two occasions. But his 21.1 percent mark now won't sustain.
- Who knows what Tyler Seguin's actual shooting talent is, but it's hard to believe a sophomore player, even as good as Seguin projects to be in the NHL, shooting at 18.6 percent for an entire season. Eight goals on 43 shots is not an easy thing to do.
- Chris Kelly will regress from his 17.6 mark, but David Krejci (15.0) and Daniel Paille (16.7) are interesting cases. Both players are shooting at much better rates than their career averages dictate, but Krejci has a high mark of 15.1 percent back in 2008-09 and Paille has a high mark of 17.3 percent with Buffalo back in 2007-08. It appears as though crazier things have indeed happened.
- All due for a bit of extra luck: Shawn Thornton, Brad Marchand, Johnny Boychuk, Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron. Marchand and Bergeron in particular will certainly help the Bruins continue their scoring ways, whenever they get over their current cold stretches.
We linked it above, but Leafs blog Pension Plan Puppets handled this topic this morning. Yeah, the Leafs are in for some struggles.
The Flyers are the highest scoring team in the NHL so far this season, with 56 goals in 14 games. Part of this has to do with the fact that they scored 24 of those goals in just three games, and part of it has to do with ridiculously high shooting percentage numbers.
A few examples:
- Maxime Talbot is shooting at 33.3 percent, with a career average of 11.5 percent.
- Rookie Sean Couturier is shooting at 21.7 percent. He shot 11.7 percent in the QMJHL last season, and had an average shooting percentage of 14.2 in his Junior career.
- James van Riemsdyk is shooting at 14.0 percent. His career average, albeit in just two NHL seasons, is 10.8 percent. He shot 12.1 percent a year ago.
- Claude Giroux is shooting at 21.4 percent. Career average: 13.9 percent.
- Scott Hartnell (20.0 percent) is shooting at about 10 percent higher than his career average.
- Jaromir Jagr is shooting at 15 percent. He's actually just above his career average of 14.1 percent.
- On the flip side, just a handful of players should trend up over the remainder of the season. Wayne Simmonds is the only notable one at this point, shooting 8.8 percent with a career average of 10.4 percent. he shot 12.6 percent and 12.0 percent, respectively, over the last two seasons.
The Flyers are benefiting from a lot of good luck so far, and that certainly won't continue. Unless you expect Max Talbot to be a 25 goal scorer.
The Oilers are a tough team to get a read on simply because they have so many rookies and second-year players, but we're gonna bet that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and his 22.2 percent shooting rate is a bit high for an NHL rookie -- No. 1 overall pick or not. And if Lennart Petrell is actually going to have a career where he shoots at a 20 percent success rate, well, then I don't even know anymore.
On the flip side, Ryan Jones might just be able to keep up his 15 percent shooting mark, considering he shot at 14.3 percent a year ago, and Shawn Horcoff could do the same with his 12.5 shooting rate. Meanwhile, Eric Belanger, Magnus Paajarvi, Anton Lander, Ben Eager and likely Taylor Hall are all due for an improvement.
Overall, some of the youngsters in Edmonton aren't going to keep up their current pace, but as a team, they could certainly stick to the 9.4 percent rate they've put up so far.
If we didn't include your team, it's not a difficult exercise. Just go to NHL.com here and use the drop-down to find numbers for the players on your team, and using Hockey-Reference.com or by clicking the name of the player on NHL.com, you can find career shooting percentage numbers to which you can compare.
For more stuff along these lines, you should probably go ahead and read about PDO over at Arctic Ice Hockey.
Morning Skate is a daily NHL column. It runs Monday through Friday. Check the archives.