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October 19, 2009
Driving To The Net
Falling Stars, Shootout Stars

by Timo Seppa

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While largely following form, the 15 shootouts to date this season (out of 105 total games and 23 overtimes) feature one major disappointment: the Dallas Stars, who should be significantly better than their sorry 0-3 record. On paper, Dallas featured the best trio of shooters in career shooting percentage––James Neal (71.4%), Brad Richards (50%) and Mike Robeiro (46.2%)––and a slightly above average goalie in Marty Turco (.691 career save percentage). Unfortunately, the Stars’ fine shooters have experienced some hard luck, exacerbating the open secret of Turco’s sharp decline.

How’s your favorite team projected to fare in 2009-10? Let’s take a look at which teams have overachieved and underachieved to date in the very small sample world of shootouts, based on career success rates of their key contributors:

Predicted vs. actual shootout performance, 2009-10

		Career	Career	Predicted Actual    Actual  Actual
Rank	Team 	Top 3	Goalie  Win %	  Shooting  Save %  Record
1	DAL	55.9	0.653	0.572	  10.0	    0.500   0-3
2	ATL	41.8	0.763	0.558	  -	    -       -
3	ANA	45.7	0.721	0.557	  50.0	    1.000   1-0
4	NJD	44.4	0.715	0.548	  100.0	    0.800   2-0
5	PIT	43.7	0.721	0.547	  50.0	    0.875   2-0
6	WSH	36.1	0.790	0.545	  33.3	    0.600   1-1
7	EDM	50.6	0.628	0.536	  33.3	    0.600   1-1
8	BOS	37.9	0.738	0.528	  66.7	    0.667   1-0
9	NYR	36.6	0.744	0.524	  -	    -	    -
10	CAR	50.9	0.596	0.522	  33.3	    0.750   1-1
11	NYI	44.2	0.658	0.520	  20.0	    0.200   0-2
12	MTL	40.7	0.689	0.518	  -	    -	    -
13	CHI	48.5	0.604	0.515	  41.7	    0.545   1-1
14	LAK	40.2	0.685	0.514	  -	    -	    -
15	CBJ	34.0	0.744	0.512	  -	    -	    -
16	BUF	35.0	0.701	0.497	  -	    -	    -
17	DET	42.6	0.627	0.494	  33.3	    0.000   0-1
18	OTT	39.1	0.643	0.489	  -	    -	    -
19	NSH	33.6	0.696	0.487	  25.0	    0.750   1-1
20	STL	38.4	0.644	0.486	  -	    -	    -
21	VAN	31.2	0.699	0.477	  100.0	    1.000   1-0
22	MIN	41.5	0.583	0.472	  -	    -	    -
23	FLA	31.3	0.663	0.462	  100.0	    0.667   1-0
24	CGY	37.0	0.600	0.458	  100.0	    0.667   1-0
25	PHX	40.4	0.560	0.456	  66.7	    0.667   1-0
26	TOR	40.7	0.551	0.453	  -	    -	    -
27	SJS	38.2	0.568	0.449	  33.3	    0.333   0-1
28	PHI	36.3	0.555	0.434	  0.0	    0.500   0-1
29	TBL	30.1	0.601	0.426	  0.0	    0.200   0-2
30	COL	44.2	0.454	0.424	  45.4	    0.583   1-1

So what conclusions can we draw from what we’ve seen so far? Here are 14 truths that we can glean from the first 15 shootouts of 2009-10:

Real: Turco’s decline

Marty Turco was considered to be a superior goaltender––real and fantasy––prior to last season, but oh how things change. Dallas’ main concern, of course, is how the 34 year old is faring during regulation, but his deterioration seems to extend to the shootout as well. An above average 94 for 136 career netminder (.691) through 2008-09, his .500 save percentage this season may be closer to where his skill level actually lies now. If so, the Stars are not an elite shootout team, but a mediocre one, even once their normally excellent shooters rebound from their dreadful 1 for 10 start.

Mirage: Neal’s bad luck

Talented sophomore James Neal has rightly claimed a spot amongst Dallas’ Top 3 shooters with an exceptional 5 for 7 (71.4%) premiere last season. While Neal’s success rate will certainly fall from those heights over time, don’t read too much into his 0-2 this season: Neal beat both Dan Ellis and Nikolai Khabibulin, but alas, not their goalposts.

Mirage: Theodore’s Oh-fer

Jose Theodore was 4th in career save percentage amongst active goaltenders, an outstanding 49 for 62 (.790). Going 0-2 against two very good shooters––Jamie Langenbrunner (47.4%) and Zach Parise (44.4%)––can happen once in a while.

Mirage: Edmonton’s 33% shooting

As covered in detail last week, Edmonton will be an elite shooting team once their coaching staff finds religion and goes with some combination of Shawn Horcoff (55.6%), Robert Nilsson (50%), Fernando Pisani (46.2%) and Patrick O’Sullivan (44.4%) instead of inexplicably sticking with Sam Gagner (33.3%) and Ales Hemsky (32%).

Mirage: Roloson’s .200 save percentage

The Islanders appeared to have upgraded their prospects in the shootout by acquiring former Oiler Dwayne Roloson in free agency. The 40 year old has been a solid 72 for 102 (.706), 20th amongst active goaltenders. While going 1 for 5 in shootouts against Boston and Pittsburgh should at least raise an eyebrow when dealing with an aging netminder, look for Roloson to give the Isles a fair shot at picking up wins going forward.

Real: Losing Markov really hurts

VUKOTA a.k.a Tom Awad pegged the Montreal Canadiens as good enough to be a 6th-8th seed in the Eastern Conference. Consequently, the loss of last season’s top point producer––who also happens to be the Habs’ unquestioned top defenseman––knocks the Canadians down to the level of a bubble team. The double whammy is that Markov is by far the best Habs’ shooter, with a solid 44.4% career conversion rate. Montreal will be hard pressed to win shootouts now; the lost points may prove to be costly to Bob Gainey’s postseason aspirations.

Mirage: Ellis’ .750 save percentage

Surprise #1: Dan Ellis won back the starting goaltending gig from Pekka Rinne in the preseason. Surprise #2: Ellis has posted an unseasonably warm save percentage of .750 over two shootouts, in part against the superior shooting Stars’ squad. Previously an ugly 10 for 20 (.500), Ellis had the 3rd worst mark of a current goaltender, in contrast to Rinne’s .792, the 3rd best career percentage.

Mirage: Canucks’ perfection

As Vancouver is projected to have the NHL’s second worst set of shooters, it was a surprise to see them go a perfect 2 for 2 in shooting, with Kyle Wellwood (26.7%) and Ryan Kesler (23.5%) putting home their attempts against Dallas. The moral: anything can happen over two attempts. The Canucks are in even worse shape currently than the 31.2% career rating of their Top 3 shooters, as best-shooter-by-far Pavol Demitra (43.3%) has been out with injury. Right now, Vancouver might be lucky to score more than once every other shootout, as their Top 3 shooters currently convert at a 21.5% lifetime clip.

Real: Koistinen’s promise

When your team stinks at the shootout––the Panthers were last in the NHL in 2008-09 with a pathetic 18.8% shooting percentage––and when your team is likely to be out of the playoff hunt as well, it’s time to experiment with untested shooters, to determine who your best performers will be moving forward. Ville Koistinen has not disappointed in the shootout to date, putting home the game winner in Florida’s opener in Helsinki, after a 3 for 4 success rate going into the season. One of the best ways to improve your shootout success is to unearth an exceptional new shooter. It’s like found money.

Mirage: Phoenix’s win against San Jose

As detailed in Unfiltered, the puzzling trio of shooters used by Todd McLellan against Phoenix was essentially a non-competitive group. While the Coyotes are predicted to be poor in the shootout, matching up against a worse Sharks’ squad, mismanaged to boot, is a great formula for pulling out a win. That said, Ilya Bryzgalov and Phoenix look to be for real.

Real: Shootouts not Dany Heatley’s strong suit

Dany Heatley––now a 3 for 20 career shootout performer after McLellan’s folly against Phoenix––should enjoy all future shootouts from the comforts of the San Jose bench.

Real: Philadelphia is not built for this skills competition

The Flyers were a below average shootout squad (4-6) in 2008-09. You would think that switching out Martin Biron (.519) and backup Antero Niittymaki (.676) would lead to improvement by default, but bringing in equally challenged Ray Emery (.564) and backup Brian Boucher (.538) in their stead is a wash. Philadelphia is a lock for the playoffs, but their seeding may suffer: below average goaltending and below average shooting will not result in many shootout victories.

Real: Tampa Bay is horrible, but better days may be ahead

The Lightning were the worst team in the shootout last year (3-10) and they will vie for that title again this season. One unexpected factor may improve them: if Mike Smith (.583) loses his starting gig to Antero Niittymaki (.676), their goaltending could go from poor to average. Tampa absolutely must try out untested shooters––such as Viktor Hedman––this season, to optimize their chances in 2010-11 and beyond. Vincent LeCavalier has plenty of track record to prove his mediocrity, while Martin St. Louis has plenty of track record to prove his ineptitude in the shootout.

Real: One man can’t carry Avs

Craig Anderson headed into the season as the worst active career goaltender at the shootout, with an unfathomably poor .400 save percentage. Not only has the former Panthers’ backup surprised much of the hockey world with his 6-1-1 record, 1 shutout and .935 save percentage, but his 1-1 record and improved .583 save percentage in the shootout have exceeded understandably low expectations.

It took a total of 9 Blackhawks’ shooters to finally overcome Anderson and the Avalanche on October 10th. Chicago’s use of lumbering hulks like Dustin Byfuglien and hamfisted grinders like Troy Brouwer instead of unsung heros like Andrew Ladd (his first career attempt – are you kidding me?) prolonged this battle much longer than it should have. Anderson looked like one of the worst career shootout goaltenders against Toews and Versteeg, helplessly belly flopping on the ice like a fish out of water…on ice. Kane’s refusal to follow Toews’ and Versteeg’s formula for success––wait for Anderson to go down, roof the backhand––prolonged the contest. On the other side of the ledger, shootout king Wojtek Wolski had an uncharacteristic miss, but he’s a rare performer who’s guaranteed to score more often than he misses. Wolski is only one man, though. To offset Anderson’s liability, Colorado needs to keep giving unproven youngsters a chance, to unearth additional talents to trot out with the young Pole.

We all know that shootouts are crapshoots––where anything can happen on a given night––but over time, proven talent wins out more often than not. Hence, teams’ performance over a season can be projected with some accuracy based on career rates of their top shooters as well as their goaltenders. Look for the Dallas Stars, in particular, to bounce back with better results over the remainder of the 2009-10 season.

Timo Seppa runs the statistical hockey site Ice Hockey Metrics.

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

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