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Cullen: Shooting percentage hard to maintain

Scott Cullen
11/22/2010 1:06:14 PM
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There are few things so exciting to a stat-head like me as a hot streak, seeing a player rise up and produce at levels that aren't sustainable over the long haul.  It's why I dug into the numbers for the Steven Stamkos piece on Friday.

One of the premises for the Stamkos article was that it was hihgly unlikely that he was going to continue scoring on 26.4% of his shots; it's just so good that it's hard enough to maintain for 19 games, let alone for an entire season.

In baseball, they talk about batting average on balls in play being at an unsustainable level, and while hockey players don't have the same situations -- shooting from different spots on the ice, for example -- it is very rare for players to score on more than 20% of their shots and the league average is in the 10-11% range.

Aside from Stamkos, here are some others that might have unsustainable shooting percentages nearly a quarter of the way into the season:

Kevin Porter, C, Colorado - The 2008 Hobey Baker winner has largely been a spare part in his NHL career and was playing fourth-line minutes (ie. 6-7 minutes/game) until he was inserted back into the lineup and went on a scoring surge, with five goals in the last eight games. 

Porter is getting more playing time, more than 14 minutes per game in November, yet with 12 shots in eight games, he's not leaving a lot of room for error and it's going to be impossible to keep scoring on 41.7% of his shots on goal.

Milan Lucic, LW, Boston - A 22-year-old power forward, Lucic is having a breakthrough season for the Bruins, scoring nearly a point-per-game.  What's going to be difficult is for Lucic, a 13.2% shooter in his first three seasons, to keep scoring on 29.4% of his shots. 

Thus, as a player who registers fewer than two shots on goal per game, it's highly unlikely that Lucic will make the jump to 40 goals this season. 

Saku Koivu, C, Anaheim - Though he's never scored more than 22 goals in a season, 36-year-old (tomorrow) Saku Koivu is tied for second on the Ducks with nine goals, ahead of Teemu Selanne and Ryan Getzlaf

Strangely enough, he's doing it with the lowest rate of shots on goal (1.43 per game) of his career, so it is fair to be skeptical that Koivu can continue to score on 27.3% of his shots.  His previous career-high was 15.0%, set in 2000-2001.

Lauri Korpikoski, LW, Phoenix - A first-round pick of the Rangers in 2004, Korpikoski has been a grinder for his first couple of NHL seasons, yet has suddenly become a productive contributor to the Coyotes, with five goals and ten points in the last 12 games. 

Thing is, he's only taken 15 shots in those 12 games (1.25 per game), so even if he's playing more, he's not going to keep scoring on 25.0% of his shots on goal.  Ride the hot streak if you must, but be prepared for it to end.

Joe Thornton, C, San Jose - The year that Jumbo Joe scored a career-high 37 goals, 2000-2001, he scored on a career-high 20.4% of his shots. 

He's more of a playmaker anyway, so Thornton has tended to score on a high percentage of his shots (14.9% in his career prior to this season), but it still seems unlikely that Thornton can keep sniping on 25.0% of his shots.  It's worth noting that his 1.41 shots on goal per game represents his lowest rate since his rookie season.

Shawn Horcoff, C, Edmonton - In short bursts, 32-year-old Horcoff has gone through some seasons with high shooting percentages.  As a 22-year-old rookie in 2000-2001, he scored on 21.4% of his shots, to finish with nine goals in 49 games.  In 2007-2008, he scored on 18.3% of his shots to finish with 21 goals in 53 games, easily the best goal-scoring rate of his career. 

With six goals in 16 games, Horcoff isn't too far off that career-best rate, but it's not likely that he'll be able to score on 23.1% of shots all season long.  Note that his 1.63 shots on goal per game is barely ahead of last year's 1.60, so there aren't a whole lot more chances coming than he was getting in a 13-goal season last year.

Brandon Dubinsky, C, N.Y. Rangers - After scoring a career-high 20 goals last season, Dubinsky already has 12 goals in 21 games this year, carrying on his typically strong early production beyond the first month of the season. 

At the same time, 24-year-old Dubinsky had only scored on 9.1% of his shots through his first three-plus seasons in the league, and is now burying 23.5% of his shots, so it seems like a reduction is in order.  Guess that means he's not going to score 47 goals (his current pace); think the Blueshirts would be happy with 37?

Claude Giroux, C, Philadelphia - Following up his brilliant 2009-2010 playoff performance, Giroux hasn't been a huge surprise as a breakthrough performer, scoring better than a point per game. 

However, the question is whether Giroux can score on 22.9% of his shots over the course of the season and that's a tall order.  Even if he did score on 21.3% of his shots in last year's playoffs, Giroux had scored on 11.7% of his shots prior to this season, so some regression to the mean is in order.

Rene Bourque, RW, Calgary - An early-season goal-scoring surge has Rene Bourque atop the Flames' goal race with nine.  Coming on the heels of his breakthrough 27-goal campaign last year, it's not shocking to see him up there, but it's more surprising considering he's playing less and not getting as many shots on goal per game.

Bourque had emerged as an offensive threat in his first two seasons with the Flames, scoring 48 goals on 364 shots (13.2%), yet has scored on 20.9% of his shots this season, so it seems likely that his goal-scoring pace will slow.

Daniel Sedin, LW, Vancouver - Maybe Daniel can ask twin Henrik how fickle the shooting gods can be, as Henrik scored on 17.5% of his shots last season and is finishing off just 4.7% so far this season. 

Daniel is on pace for 49 goals right now, but has yet to score on more than 15.3% of his shots on goal for an entire season and is currently connecting on 21.1% of his shots this season.  If he's going to get 50, he'll need to increase the number of shots because the percentage going in is likely to go down.

David Jones, RW, Colorado - In his last 40 NHL games, Jones has scored 19 goals, finishing off 25.7% of his shots on goal, so maybe he's just going to be a high-percentage finisher, but even if he is, like the others mentioned here, scoring on better than a quarter of his shots is a lot to ask.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.  For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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