Do shootout shooters get worse as they are used more?

Shane O’Donnell is a student at the University of Central Florida. He covers the Panthers for Litter Box Cats and writes about the University of Central Florida hockey team on its website

On December 4th, 2014, the Florida Panthers and the Columbus Blue Jackets played in a game that went beyond regulation and overtime, and into the shootout. The Cats sent out Jonathan Huberdeau, Jussi Jokinen, Brad Boyes, and Nick Bjugstad. As each player prepared to skate in on the goalie, I leaned over to the people I was watching the game with and correctly predicted what each shooter was going to do before they did it.

Huberdeau attempted the Forsberg (one handed backhand).

Jokinen came in on his backhand, swung to his forehand, and took a quick shot.

Boyes came in and tried to go five hole.

Bjugstad came in, faked a shot, swung to his forehand, and took a shot.

The attempt taken by each skater was Huberdeau’s 5th, Jokinen’s 5th, Boyes 3rd. and Bjugstad’s 3rd of the season.

I was able to accurately predict what each skater did because I watch the team, and I’ve seen what each player’s favorite shootout moves are. Seeing as NHL teams have scouting staffs that are devoted to picking up team tendencies and etc., it makes sense to assume that the goaltenders in the NHL would be aware of each player’s shootout tendencies, or at least be reminded of them on the bench before they head out to their nets. It certainly seemed the case in that game, as Bobrovsky wasn’t fooled by any of the moves that the shooters attempted.

So would that be a league wide trend? Would shooters be less effective after their first couple of shootout attempts due to teams seeing film and being aware of what moves players were likely to attempt?

With that in mind, I set out to look at the NHL’s shootout data. Thanks to some generosity and handy computer work by another HP writer, Matt Cane, I got to look at every individual shootout attempt taken from 2007-2008. I figured that skilled players (Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos) would take more than the average amount of attempts, while defenseman and third/fourth liners would take less than the average amount attempts, and with that in mind, divided the shooters into three bins; players who had four or more attempts (skilled players), players who had two or three attempts (depth guys with some skill), and shooters that only had one attempt (fourth liners/defenseman only called upon when absolutely necessary). Keep in mind that I kept each season separate, and only excluded the data from the lockout season.

Data

Based on previous shootout history, shooters are less likely to score the more often that they are used.

shootout 4

The first bin contains the shooters who had four or more shootout attempts in a single season. Taking advice from A.C. Thomas, one of the founders of war-on-ice.com, I ran a Chi-squared-test for statistical significance. I pooled the data past the third shot attempt to ensure I had adequate sample size for every attempt number (around the 11th attempt, the sample size was about 40 shots).

shootout 3

I was able to easily conclude that the data was statistically significant, as p<.00001.

The second bin contains the shooters who had two or three shootout attempts on the season. I ran the Chi-squared test again, though this time there was no need to bin the attempt numbers.

shootout 2

So again, we can conclude that the data is statistically significant, as p<.001.

It’s safe to conclude that shooters become less effective in the shootout the more that they are used in a season because goaltenders become familiar (or at least aware) of the moves that the shooter uses.

If players become less efficient the more often they’re used, then what option(s) could coaches employ to combat the declining success rates?

Just using a new player isn’t a better option. Players in the second bin converted on their first attempt at a lower percentage than the players in the first bin did on their seventh shot, and players in the third bin only converted on about 15% of their attempts.

So, skilled guys are still going to convert more than the depth guys, even if they’ve gone multiple times in the season already.

That uptick in percentages that we see around the 6-8 mark intrigued me, so at the advice of Timo Seppa, I pulled the data of every shooter who had taken eight or more shots over the course of the season and looked at the average conversion rates.

shootout 1

Interestingly enough, there appear to be two places where there is an uptick in percentages; at the shot number four mark, and the shot seven mark. The best reasoning I have for this is that shooters learn 2-3 moves, at most. After that, they either 1) have enough moves that the goalie isn’t sure which one will be used, or 2) the shooters learn new moves after running out of new shots.

Regardless of the upticks in percentages and etc., the basic fact is that the more times a shooter gets his move caught on camera, the more familiar the rest of the league is going to be with it, and the less likely it is to work.

The shootout is a skills competition, and for the most part, a crapshoot. But it doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon, and until does, teams that can identify and utilize trends like the one noted above will get a slight advantage over their opponents.

In a league where teams miss the playoffs by a couple of points, that slight advantage in the shootout could be the difference between playing playoff hockey, or sitting on the golf course waiting for the offseason to end.

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