photo credit, as always, to the voice of vlad
Colorado are 7th in the league in goals-for. But 8.59% is the key figure. It’s the Avalanche’s 5 on 5 shooting percentage halfway through the season, which isn’t outrageous–there are teams over 9–but it’s in the top third of the league and nearly a full percentage point above the median shooting percentage. Digging a bit deeper we also see they’re dramatically outperforming their expected goals: despite only having a 1.9 xGF/60, they’re scoring at a rate of 2.48 GF/60.We’ve seen this episode before–it did not end as well as hoped for the burgundy and blue.
So with a full week sans games exactly halfway through the season, I took the opportunity to poke about in the numbers and see how much of this shooting percentage can be explained. One place to start:
Shot share isn’t a standardized stat or anything. I’ve defined it here as the percentage of the team’s SOG the player is responsible for. If a team’s high-percentage shooters are taking more of the shots, there’s an argument to be made that team is playing in a way that sets them up to have shooting success. This is tricky for the Avalanche, a team with a lot of rookies and otherwise young players whose career numbers aren’t really stable yet.
[all numbers contained herein are at 5v5–I also went through this for the power play but found nothing of note–yes, Corsica does appear to exclude empty-net situations, which brings Nieto specifically down to earth a little bit]
It should not surprise us that Nathan MacKinnon is leading the way with 90 shots. Erik Johnson’s 87 is a surprising second-most, but it’s convenient for this analysis–his career numbers include a whole lot of data. We also should consider Mikko Rantanen’s career numbers fairly reliable at this point. He’s played a ton of NHL games now and is scoring on the same amount of his shots as last season–about 15%. That’s a pretty high percentage, but he also doesn’t shoot that often, with just over half the shots of linemate MacKinnon. (If you’re like me you’re probably guilty of shouting AAAA MIKKO SHOOT THIS several times, so this seems to make sense.)
People like JT Compher and Alexander Kerfoot can be lumped together into a bucket I’m calling Unreliable. These are young players without much, if any, NHL time before this season, which makes their SH% completely a mystery. Kerfoot will probably not shoot 31.8% for his whole career, sadly for Avalanche fans, but it’s all we have to go on for right now. Unreliables (Greer, Kerfoot, Mironov, Lindholm, Bigras, Toninato, Siemens, Compher, Nemeth, Grimaldi, Girard, Jost, and Kamenev) acount for 21% of the Avs’ goals and 20% of their shots; they are shooting an aggregate 9%. (There is room to compare their goals to their xG, if you, Reader, are so inclined–I don’t do that here and it needs done.)
What we can then do with shot share is multiply their shots taken by their career shooting percentage, which gives us roughly the number of goals you might expect that player to score on that many shots. The difference between this number and their actual number of goals gives a nice indicator of who is shooting normally, who is getting robbed, and who is shooting the lights out. To avoid confusion with xG, I’ll be referring to this as Goals Above Predicted, and it shines a completely unsurprising light on where the Avalanche goal outburst is coming from.
I’ve arranged these so the highest shot shares are on the left.
Nathan Mackinnon and Gabe Landeskog have both pocketed well over 3 more goals at 5v5 than their career shooting percentage would predict. Patrik Nemeth is next highest with +2.26. Not much could be done for the names being basically struck out by the bars below the line, but that’s Sven Andrighetto leading the charge at -2 goals above predicted, which is to say, we would have expected him to have 5 goals by now, not the 3 he has. With all these data points taken together, the Avalanche have a +8.65 goals above predicted figure–enough to win quite a few games all on its own. This indicates that, unless something truly screwy is going on, Colorado will be in line for a bit of a shooting percentage deflation indeed, mainly driven by Landeskog and MacKinnon.
How hard will this bubble pop?
For a guess at this answer, let’s return to xG. Expected goals, you’ll recall, is a derivative of Corsi that weights each attempt by its “danger.” Shot type, shot location, whether it was a rush chance or a rebound, and more all go into this formula. Let’s compare the four most out of range players’ actual goals-for rate with their xG counterpart, Individual Expected Goals For (ixGF)/60. If a player has a high percentage but is scoring goals around the same as their ixGF rate, it’s reasonable to say that player is creating better chances (shooting talent doesn’t really seem to change all that much over time).
It should not surprise anyone to discover that there’s no reason to think Gabe Landeskog is suddenly a 15% shooter, or that Patrik Nemeth is approaching 10% from the blueline. Those are off by factors of 2 and 3, respectively, which meets the extremely technical criteria for “hella high.” Andrighetto, in the meantime, may be shooting under 5% right now, but he should be having the opportunities to produce a little bit better than this. Maybe not significantly, but at least some. (Corsica tallies his ixGF at 4.74; he has 3 5v5 goals.)
The case of Nathan MacKinnon is a little bit more interesting. It’s high, but so is his expected rate.
That expected goals rate is pretty much on par for his career. Yet somehow, every season after his rookie year, he has found himself coming in well below that mark in actual goal production. In fact he has seemed to excel at consistently scoring about 80% of his expected rate, which is to say, “not a very strong shooter.” That’s not who anybody thought he was, but so amateur scouting sometimes goes, right? Why would things be any different now? Even in the Roy Miracle year, he only shot 10% at 5v5, after all. Not over 11%.
But why would everyone be any different now? Scoring around the league is up, from 4.5 to 4.7 goals/60 (5v5) as of this writing. (That’s (G/TOI)/2, to account for the fact that 2 teams share the same ice.) Can you think of anything new and different about the game this season, which may effect for example the wrists and hands of talented scorers? Maybe preventing them from being injured, so they can actually utilize that scoring talent toward flicking pucks into the net?
There’s no other significant changes to the game this year except tighter slashing calls. (Well, except offside reviews which should be banned and the faceoff violations being called strictly, but those don’t affect play.) It seems fair to suggest stopping players from breaking each other’s fingers every night may be allowing them to score more, and may also allow them to reach high-danger areas more often.
Don’t get carried away; Nathan MacKinnon should be expected to slow down some too. “What, you mean he isn’t going to have 3 points every night? I feel shocked!” So do I. But I don’t think he specifically will slow down as much as some of his teammates may. 30 total goals should definitely be attainable for him, if not the 36 he’s currently on pace for. Every year since his rookie season, something has mysteriously happened that resulted in him not scoring as much as he could have. The difference this year could be in figuring out how to slow down and not just fire the puck–just as easily as it could be that he actually has the ability to do something with it now without getting his hands pried off his stick.
Landeskog is benefiting a lot from being on MacKinnon’s wing. If he stays there, he’ll continue to produce points, but the chances of him continuing to score this many goals aren’t good. He has 16 goals now–I would be super surprised if he approaches 30.
Mikko Rantanen is another story. He has the tools to be a high-level scorer in this league, already is on a very sustainable 30-goal pace, and isn’t even taking that many of the shots. The way to make that happen is to use his line a little bit differently. Unless MacKinnon is passing off the pads, a change in priority is in order. Let Mikko Shoot.
The Avs offense will fall off at some point. It could happen at any time. Hopefully, with the goaltending starting to pull its weight in a way that it simply.was.not earlier in the season, and by shifting the shot priority to Rantanen, they could survive some of that without suddenly losing a whole lot of games.
And if they do lose a whole lot of games, so what? Everything is made up this season and the points don’t matter. Don’t lose sight of that because the playoffs are in striking distance.