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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Numbers Game: Shots on Goal

Like many fantasy hockey owners that drafted Jason Spezza, I often find myself screaming at the TV “Shoot, Spezza! Shoot the puck!” when I am watching Spezza skate down the ice on an odd-man rush. Of course, he does not listen to me. Instead, he slows down and usually attempts a nifty saucer-pass to one of his linemates. Granted, these passes usually lead to scoring chances and often goals. But imagine what would happen if Spezza actually listened to my screams.

Last season, Spezza scored an impressive 34 goals to go along with 53 assists in only 67 games. As a fantasy owner, how could I be upset with 87 points from one of my top players? What is more impressive than the fact he scored 34 goals is that he scored that many goals in only 162 shots. That means that he scored a goal every 4.5 shots, which placed him second in that category in the league last year.

Conversely, Vincent Lecavalier, who led the league in scoring last year with 52 goals, fired an astonishing 339 shots on goals. Vinny ranked 4th overall in the league in SOG, trailing only Ovechkin, Hossa and Jokinen.

There is certainly something to be said about a player’s ability to generate the chances to take that many shots on goal. Creating scoring chances is about skill, hockey intelligence and time on ice. Few would be surprised that Jim Down, for instance, not known for any of those aforementioned attributes, only had 44 shots in 66 games. However, for players like Spezza, who possess incredible talent and hockey smarts and who are given prime ice-time, they do create plenty of opportunities for themselves.

If Spezza took as many shots as the players that ranked in the top 10 in SOG, with his shooting percentage, he would have scored over 69 goals. While it always difficult to extrapolate statistics like that because there are so many factors involved, there is no question that the more you shoot, the more you score.

Examining the scoring statistics from forwards last year, there was a clear correlation between SOG and goals scored. Players who scored about the league average for goals scored by a forward had, on average, 189 shots compared to less than 87 shots fired by players below the average.

In addition, there was a very high correlation between SOG and assists. This correlation is likely attributable to two main factors: The first being that that the players that shoot more are highly skilled which tends to mean that they will score more, including setting up more goals. The second factor is that more shots usually mean more rebounds and more opportunities for teammates to capitalize on those chances.

Shooting percentage, on the other hand, did not fluctuate with SOG and therefore no correlation was present. Players that took over 300 shots did not tend to score at a higher frequency than players that shot the puck less than 100 times. Some players, like Jordan Staal and Alex Tanguay, just seem to have a knack at finding the back of the net.

So the next time you are watching a hockey game and your fantasy hockey star or dud is carrying the puck into the offensive zone, know that you are justified in screaming and encouraging him to shoot. More shots means more goals and more assists.

For Illegal Curve, I am Adam Gutkin.

Click on images to englarge:

SOG averages

Goals scored averages

League Leaders

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