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October 25, 2011
Howe and Why
Fixing Shooting Percentage

by Robert Vollman

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Why are missed nets excluded from a player's shooting percentage? For goalies it makes sense not to include shots that missed the net, but why aren't players penalized for attempting to score, and missing the net altogether?

This is especially frustrating with defensemen, some of whom blast it from the point with seemingly no real attempt to hit the net, and their shooting percentages will ultimately match those who consistently do their jobs, and get the puck through traffic and on net.

Here are the defensemen who hit the net most often. Given the recent studies that suggest certain players and teams have a persistent skill to block shots over which the shooter has little control, we won't include those. We're also looking only at even strength data, and only those who attempted at least 100 shots last season (of which there were 77).

Best defensemen at hitting the net

Defenseman     Shot Miss HTN%
Steve Montador   98  34  74.2%
Erik Johnson     91  32  74.0%
Dan Hamhuis      85  30  73.9%
Jordan Leopold   78  28  73.6%
Joe Corvo       102  37  73.4%
Erik Karlsson   119  45  72.6%
Johnny Boychuk  134  51  72.4%
Kurtis Foster    94  36  72.3%
Zbynek Michalek  86  33  72.3%
P.K. Subban     116  45  72.0%

Minimum 100 attempted shots
HTN%: Hit The Net percentage

Steve Montador tops the list, the first of two of last year's Sabres. Erik Johnson is next, followed by the unlikely Dan Hamhuis and the second Sabre. There are no big names on this list, but it's interesting to see Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban, two players with really impressive shots from the point.

At a glance, these players don't appear to have anything in common. Could there be some other factor that explains their success? While a goal is a goal no matter where it is scored, shots are unfortunately recorded differently from one arena to the next without very much consistency, so there's still some chance of scorekeeper bias.

Intuitively, distance could be a factor, but the average distance of their shots is 53.4 feet, which is fairly average (though again, shot distance isn't always recorded consistently or accurately). It's a fairly tight group too, ranging from 50.9 feet for Erik Johnson to 56.8 feet for Zbynek Michalek.

What about the type of shots they're taking? Slap shots are notoriously hard to aim, but this group takes a fairly average number of them—about 48.4%. Again it's a tight group, ranging from Boychuk and Foster (57.3-58.5%) to Hamhuis and Leopold (40.0-41.5%). Let's take the opposite approach and see if we can learn something from the league's least successful net-finders.

Worst defensemen at hitting the net

Defenseman     	  Shot Miss HTN%
Derek Morris        61  43  58.7%
Drew Doughty        69  48  59.0%
Marc-Edouard Vlasic 85  59  59.0%
Jason Garrison      80  55  59.3%
Jack Johnson        89  59  60.1%
Anton Babchuk       82  53  60.7%
Alexander Edler     74  47  61.2%
Jason Demers        67  42  61.5%
Trevor Daley        88  55  61.5%
Tim Gleason         66  41  61.7%

Minimum 100 attempted shots
HTN%: Hit The Net percentage

Derek Morris is like that kid you played street hockey with that couldn't even hit the garage door behind the net, but Drew Doughty? Jack Johnson's another King on the list, along with two of their California cousins in San Jose, Jason Demers and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, so scorekeeper effects could be partly to blame.

Again, distance is not a factor, with the group average 53.5 feet just like the top ten, but it's not as tight a group. Doughty gets in really close (45.5 feet) while Tim Gleason must occasionally fire it from behind his own net (60.6 feet). In fact, we took a closer look and found no relationship between shot distance and hitting the net.

Derek Morris may be big on the slap shots (72.1% of his shots), as is Anton Babchuk (68.1%), but most of these guys are usually more careful, especially Trevor Daley who tees one up just 30.8% of the time. As a group they're only slightly more likely to opt for the slapper than the first group (50.2% to 48.4%).

Putting these two things together, let's unveil last year's leaders in real shooting percentage—goals divided by all attempted shots (except blocks). The leader comes as no surprise.

Best and worst defensemen by Real Shooting Percentage

Defenseman      Goal Shot Miss RealSH%
Lubomir Visnovsky 11   84  50  8.2%
Jordan Leopold     8   78  28  7.5%
Eric Brewer        9   86  42  7.0%
Brent Burns        9  108  54  5.6%
Erik Karlsson      9  119  45  5.5%
Niklas Kronwall    6   76  39  5.2%
Drew Doughty       6   69  48  5.1%
Nicklas Lidstrom   6   89  42  4.6%
Kevin Bieksa       5   70  42  4.5%
Christian Ehrhoff  7  105  52  4.5%
…
Matt Carle         1   93  38  0.8%
Douglas Murray     1   90  44  0.7%
Dennis Wideman     1   88  51  0.7%
Braydon Coburn     1   95  47  0.7%
Mark Giordano      1  110  61  0.6%

Minimum 100 attempted shots, even strength
RealSH%: Shooting percentage, including missed nets 

Lubomir Visnovsky scored on 8.2% of his attempted shots last season at even strength, in a season where only two others (Jordan Leopold and Eric Brewer) topped 5.6%. When dealing with such small sample sizes of 5-7 goals it's tempting to chalk it up to luck, but look at the names on this list. These are defensemen known for their consistent ability to score from the point (though Niklas Kronwall and Nicklas Lidstrom might have Tomas Holmstom's screening abilities to thank).

Despite his terrible aim, Doughty remains on the leaderboard, but behind the more accurate Leopold. On the flip side, it's amazing that Mark Giordano would attempt 171 even strength shots and only one would find the back of the twine. Is he snake-bitten, or unskilled?

Final Verdict

Wouldn't it be great if shooting percentages included when a player missed the net? It makes sense not to reward the goalies in those situations, but isn't a missed net (including a crossbar or goal post) just as much a failed shot as a save? Even more so, in fact, since a save might result in a rebound or an offensive zone faceoff, while a miss could even wrap around the boards and result in an odd man rush the other way.

At the very least, we should give some credit to players like Jordan Leopold who can consistently hit the net, and give his team a higher probability of scoring, unlike the Derek Morris' of the league.

Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.

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