Why The Wings Will Be Fine: Shooting Percentage

I've always been the type of fan who has cherry-picked stats to suit my arguments while relying on the "eye test" when the numbers don't help me out. It's a way for me to be oblivious to other fans who claim superiority because "____ is higher than the Wings" or "_____ has a better _____ than _____".

However, I've been trying to look more at the numbers and stats to come up with ways to analyze the Wings. It's fun to say that "Johan Franzen has been awesome", but my inquiring mind wants to know why that is, and not just because the team is "feeding the Mule".

So, having said that, I decided to take a look at some stats that might indicate that the recent 6-game losing streak was an exception, not the rule. Today we're going to analyze what seems to be everyone's favourite stat right now: shooting percentage.

It seems like everyone is in love with shooting percentage and shots in general. Travis Hughes wrote a post yesterday looking at some of the surprising teams (both good and bad) through the first month of the season, specifically focusing on shooting percentage in an attempt to determine whether these teams were flukes or were genuinely playing up or down to their talent level.

As was pointed out in the post, the average shooting percentage of an NHL team is around 9 percent. As it stands right now, the Wings have scored 34 goals for on 467 shots, or just over 7%, below the league average. Since the lockout, the average team shooting percentage for the Wings has ranged from a high of 10.8% in 2005-06 to a low of 8.1% in 2009-10. Over the past 6 years, the Wings have come close to the 9% average that is typically seen.

As we saw during the Wings' losing streak, the main problem was scoring goals. 6 goals in 6 games isn't going to win you many games, even if you've got Dominik Hasek and Martin Brodeur's love child in net (unrelated, how ugly would that baby be?) In those 6 games, the Wings scored 6 goals on 198 shots. I got out my trusty calculator, and found that equates to a shooting percentage of......3 percent? That can't be right, can it?

To put things in perspective, 3% shooting over the course of an 82 game season for a team that averages 30 SOG per game (a reasonable number for the Wings considering their propensity for shooting the puck) would give the Wings 74 goals, or less than a goal per game. Does anyone out there honestly believe that the Wings would only score 74 goals over the course of an entire 82 game season? I didn't think so.

Conversely, if the Wings were to increase their shooting percentage to the league average of 9%, that's a total of 221 goals. That would be the lowest scoring output for the team since the lockout (previous low was 223 in 2009-10). Again, that seems like a total that is too low for this collection of talent.

So we know the team is not scoring on the percentage of shots they normally take as seen by historical numbers and league averages. That should mean that scoring will increase as they start to climb towards the mean, right? But what about individual players? How are some of the players faring at this early stage of the season?

Without question, the hottest player on the Wings right now is Franzen. Fresh off his 435th hat trick against the Avalanche, the Mule has scored on exactly one quarter of the shots he's taken this season (25.8%). His career average is 11.9%, so I am not going to expect him to keep up this ridiculous pace. However, we all know that Franzen is an extremely streaky player, so we should see him slow down.

Nicklas Lidstrom is also off to a great start offensively for the Wings, potting 6 goals in the first 13 games. His current shooting percentage is 16.2, but his career average is 6.9, so while the idea of a 40-year old defenseman scoring 40 goals is nice, I'm not going to hold my breath on it happening, even if it means that it would just prove once and for all that he's the greatest defenseman to ever live.

Jiri Hudler's play this season has been surprisingly good, at least if we look at in comparison to last season. However, one reason for his strong play is that he's scored 2 goals on his 13 shots, a percentage of 15.4. While that's an extremely small sample size (or could speak to shot quality, which we'll deal with later), the fact that he's scoring at that clip is encouraging for a player who struggled early last season to find the back of the net. Couple this with the fact that his career average is 12.3%, and I think that while there will be some regression, it shouldn't be that significant and he should get close to his pre-KHL numbers.

The offensive/goal-scoring troubles of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have been documented by other sites that I won't link to, but there's no question that neither one has gotten off to the start that they envisioned when the season began. Dats has 10 points, but only 2 goals, and after potting 23 in only 56 games last year, his pace of 12 goals is terrible. However, his shooting percentage currently sits at 4.5%, well off his career average of 14.4%. In fact, his lowest total was 11.7% in 2007-08, so I feel very confident in saying that he's going to pick it up and start scoring the way we know he can.

Zetterberg is in a similar position. For a long time we heard about the ridiculous/useless stat of how many games he had at least 2 SOG until it was snapped last year. What was lost in that discussion was the fact that he was scoring on 11.1% of those shots over the course of his career, a significant jump from the 5.8% he's sporting now. Like Datsyuk, I am very sure that he'll get closer to where's he been in the past and start pumping goals at a rate that would do his new mustache very proud.

Long story short, I believe that the troubles that plagued the Wings during THE STREAK (which is what I'm going to call it now) were short-lived and the result of poor execution. Obviously, I haven't delved into shot quality, but I think that's something that requires far more analysis than I'm willing to provide at this point. Regardless of the quality shots the Wings were taking, teams simply don't score at a rate of 3% of their shots, unless they're taking 50 shots a game. I believe that as the Wings get closer both to the league and their team average, we'll see an increase in goals for and more wins, leading to playoff appearance number 21 in a row.

* All stats were taken from NHL.com and Hockey-Reference.com.

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