If (Shooting) Percentages Don't Balance Out, Rangers May Crash, Burn

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Phil Kocher

Managing Editor at Cleared for Contact
I believe in Nate Silver, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Christopher Hitchens, and hockey analytics.
Blogging between diaper changes.
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Fresh off their fourth victory in a row, the New York Rangers are rolling. The early hole they dug themselves into that nearly cost Alain Vigneault his job is one they’ve finally begun to climb out of. Monday night’s victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets officially turned the Blueshirts into a .500 hockey team (7-7-2) for the first time this season. Thanks to a relatively weak Eastern Conference at this point of the year, they’re also just one point out of a Wild Card spot.

Sure, a white-hot power play is largely to thank for the success of these last four games that have righted the Rangers’ season, but that’s nothing to apologize for. Successful teams often ride waves throughout the season, be it productive special teams, an especially productive player (wave to the crowd, 2016-17 Michael Grabner), or otherwise. For as long as this wave continues to roll, the Rangers should be content riding it, picking up as many wins along the way as they can. If the Rangers are going to build on this success, however, they should be prepared to address some of the underlying reasons that will come up when it comes to an end – and it will end.

The Rangers are 13th in the league in goals per game (3.3) and their power play percentage is currently 6th overall (24.2%). That’s a great position to hold in both categories, but it’s important to recognize that both are also being heavily influenced by the play of Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich, as well as Jimmy Vesey and Rick Nash, who are on disparate ends of the team’s individual shooting percentage (S%) spectrum respectively.

Zibanejad’s 15.7 S% is the third-highest among all Rangers skaters this season. It’s part of the reason he also leads the team in points (17 in 16 games) and goals (8). Of those eight goals, five have come on the man advantage—a team-leading stat—where he and Kevin Shattenkirk have become a formidable duo. Just ahead of Zibanejad sits his linemate, Pavel Buchnevich (16.2 S%), who himself has gone on a tear over this four-game stretch registering two goals and four points. Together, along with Chris Kreider, the three make up for New York’s most lethal line, accounting for more than 35% of the goals scored by Rangers this season (19 of 52).

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But Zibanejad and Buchnevich’s individual shooting percentages are running high. Higher than average, that is. In the case of Zibanejad, a career 10.9% shooter, it’s running extremely high. While Buchnevich, by comparison, shot at 14.5% last year in limited usage.

Where Buchnevich and Zibanejad are leading the charge, Nash and Vesey are the team caboose. Vesey’s 6.1 S% is second worst among the Rangers’ regular skaters (those who’ve played in at least ten games) and is second only to the least likely candidate to have the team’s worst conversion rate in Rick Nash, who is firing at a miserable, career-worst 5.4%.

Since he was acquired from Columbus in 2012, Nash’s 130 goals are the most of any Ranger. The next closest is Chris Kreider with 94. But Nash has gone ice cold this season, performing significantly worse than he did two years ago when he shot at 8.2% for the year and finished the 2015-16 campaign—his worst goal-scoring year since his rookie season—with just 15 goals. But perhaps things are starting to look up. He did have a goal and an assist in the win against the Florida Panthers on November 4th and has two goals in his last five games. The law of averages does suggest he’s unlikely to remain this low given his career average of 12.7%, so the sooner he regresses to the mean the better.

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Vesey is no different. He, too, should see an improvement as the year progresses thanks to the same law of averages. Despite competing in only his second NHL season, he shot 13.8% last year. It’s simply unrealistic to assume he’ll play out the duration of this year at half that rate.

For now, there’s no room to criticize the Rangers’ performance these last four games given how dramatic the hole they were climbing out of was, but if they expect to progress into a viable playoff contender, sustaining a consistent level of production is required. As Zibanejad and Buchnevich come down, having Nash and Vesey rise in counterbalance should limit any offensive misfires as the Rangers continue to jockey for playoff position as the year advances.

Discussion
  1. As the article comes near to its ending, the "law of averages" is mentioned, and one could be forgiven for thinking that may play an invisible role down the road in Nash's production. Better hope it does — for the Rangers' prospects for success, or for Nash's trade value, whichever comes last.

    To me, the shooting percentage anomaly is reflective of the team's ice cold start — when harldy anyone could buy a goal 'cept Zibs — and recent tear that brought the team back to 8-7-2.
    Piss poor shooting percentages; cold streak. Shooting percentages heat up for more of our scorers; hot streak. Sooner or later one would think the team would find the mean. But then again, maybe they will be a streaky team all season with ups and downs? Kinda hard to tell at this point.

    In a mathematical world things should tend to even out. But that would be too simple. An algorithm would be more appropriate maybe, where some middlin' type players in their mid careers level out at the mean and older declining players decline further (hope that's not too dramatic in Nash's case, but more on that later), and younger ascendent players improving, e.g. Buch, Zibs, Hayes, Miller, Kreider... .

    I guess a real whiz with more time on their hands could fiugure out some weighted averages for each player, their career trajectories and throw out the outlier streaks. Unfortunately that's gonna be difficult because this whole season so far has be one outlier streak followed by another, so ya just have to use the eyeball test, as well.

    Which brings us back to Nash —*he got tons of chances early on, but the problem seemed mental — he was shooting them into the goalie, missing wide, hitting the post, the crossbar. Snakebit as fuck. So snakebit he reverted to the terrible slo-mo dead-end fooling nobody spinaramas that haunted us early in his NYR tenure. He also seemed to be gripping a mental stick — good legs but no touch, no finishing mojo. With Nash, you just gotta hope he stays health long enough for his finishing mojo to align with the opportunities and his scoring should get back on track. Just a little less than before because age catches up. And so does the trade deadline. at which point it all becomes moot if he's traded.

    So I guess we're just gonna have to wait and see where they go from here. Just as I was confident they would revert to somewhere around their career averages when things were looking like steaming turds in a fishbowl, It's almost inevitable they will cool off a bit from the present streak. But while individual player stats will probably reverting to the mean as long as the goaltending is strong, I wonder if this team will be up and down all season, or will they be able to build on their new found confidence? I don't know, but i am enjoying the emergence of Buchnevich, the growth of Zibanejad to the next level, and the contribution of Shattenkirk to the powerplay.

    If things don't fizzle out, it might just make Gorton's job even more difficult — who stays who goes, how to improve the team — and should keep the experts here —*which I am not —*scouting other teams for good trade fits .





    Quote Originally Posted by Future
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    In a vacuum, it's just as fancy as Corsi.



    I mean, I guess, but corsi is the most baseline "fancy" stat there is. With shooting percentage, we're talking about literally calculating the percentage of shots that go into the net based on the number of shots on it. How is that fancy? It's not as simple as just counting shots, but if that's fancy, what does that make xGF, Fenwick, and others — ultra fancy?

    I mean, S% doesn't even account for quality. For that you need actual fancy stats like high danger shooting percentage, etc.
    The problem I have with these stats is it's just a simple percentage that doesn't take the context into consideration. For fancy stats they really sit at the surface level
    The PP has definitely bolstered the shooting percentage of Zib and Buch. I was talking about Zib's unimpressive 5 on 5 play last week. (which has picked up, since).

    But, its all cyclical. Zibs and Buch will come down a bit, so will Shattenkirk, I imagine. Guys like Nash, Vesey, Hayes, Kreider (has picked it up recently) will improve, even Zucc can improve his effectiveness. We have decent depth in Grabner, Fast, DD that can be expected to net close to .4-.5 ppg. And, most importantly, I think we can expect the defense and goaltending to level out a bit, improve on numbers, and be a bit more consistent (usually takes 20 games under AV).





    Quote Originally Posted by Future
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    Not necessarily.

    Because Zib and Buch get so much PP time, they're going to keep getting really high-quality shots.



    For as long as the PP runs hot, sure.





    Quote Originally Posted by booze and wingz
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    On the heels of that, I guess it's also much more realistic that Zib and Buch's percentages come down than it is a given for Vesey's and Nash's to go up.



    Not necessarily.

    Because Zib and Buch get so much PP time, they're going to keep getting really high-quality shots.





    Quote Originally Posted by Phil in Absentia
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    Yes. That's the key factor I'm speaking bout. But it's required to sustain success, because what history tell us is that exorbitant shooting percentages like Zibanejad (shooting basically 50% above his career average) is that they tend to crash. If and when it does, the goals will dry up, which puts an even greater emphasis on players like Vesey and especially Nash to pick up the slack.

    Once Zibanejad and Buchnevich come down, Vesey and Nash have to come up to keep everything in balance, otherwise you end up in a goals deficit.



    I get what you’re saying. I apologize, it was late and I wasn’t firing on all cylinders.
    Odd. Seems like the guys who shoot MORE have lower percentages. Seems like some guys are more picky about their shots and capitalize on their golden chances. Nash has GOT to be leading the team in shots, and maybe even quality chances. He's had a tough go at it, and is just missing or getting stoned by the goalie. He will definitely break out soon.

    I think Zibs PP numbers are what pads his shooting%. Nash being on the 2nd unit may he hurting his.





    Quote Originally Posted by Rangers4Life
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    Forgive me if I’m wrong but if it balances out as a whole, wouldn’t they be in the same position? The article kind of contradicts itself if I’m reading it correctly.








    Quote Originally Posted by booze and wingz
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    If Vesey and Nash both pick it up and their shooting percentages increase, wouldn’t it offset the decreased shooting percentages from Zib and Buchnevich?



    Yes. That's the key factor I'm speaking bout. But it's required to sustain success, because what history tell us is that exorbitant shooting percentages like Zibanejad (shooting basically 50% above his career average) is that they tend to crash. If and when it does, the goals will dry up, which puts an even greater emphasis on players like Vesey and especially Nash to pick up the slack.

    Once Zibanejad and Buchnevich come down, Vesey and Nash have to come up to keep everything in balance, otherwise you end up in a goals deficit.





    Quote Originally Posted by booze and wingz
    View Post

    If Vesey and Nash both pick it up and their shooting percentages increase, wouldn’t it offset the decreased shooting percentages from Zib and Buchnevich?



    That’s basically how I took it.
    Forgive me if I’m wrong but if it balances out as a whole, wouldn’t they be in the same position? The article kind of contradicts itself if I’m reading it correctly.

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