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February 7, 2011
Stats and Fury
The Unlucky Ones

by Kent Wilson

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In any given season, the bounces will even out over the course of 82 games for most players. Some guys, however, end up with a career high shooting percentage or an abnormally impressive plus-minus thanks to a ridiculous save percentage.

Of course, there's also the unfortunate few caught at the other end of the spectrum: good players with strong underlying number who nevertheless see their counting numbers take a dive because they keep hitting posts or their goalie keeps letting pucks in at the other end. This article will focus on those unfortunate skaters this year who would be putting good-to-excellent results but for the cruel fickleness of lady luck.

C Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
11 goals, 24 assists, 35 points, -11 plus-minus

On-ice shooting percentage: 5.8%
On-ice save percentage: .900
PDO: 95.7
Corsi per 60: +11.3

At some point in the last couple of seasons, Joe Pavelski took over as the Sharks best even strength centerman. Joe Thornton can still get the job done on the power play, but Pavelski is the Sharks' heavy lifter these days. His Corsi rate is one of the best amongst regular skaters in San Jose this year despite a zone start ratio of 43.7%. Only Scott Nichol has a more difficult starting assignment and his possession rate reflects it (-14.87 Corsi per 60).

Despite Pavelski's exemplary work at driving the play forward, he's mostly been considered a disappointment this season thanks to counting numbers that hover below expectations. His mediocre output has everything to do with the bounces, with a PDO that is well below the league mean of 100 at 95.7, and his personal shooting percentage is a ghastly 6.4%. So even though Pavelski is generating shots at a career best pace (3.8 per game), his goal scoring rate remains underwhelming.

Pavelski is turning into one of the best pivots in the league. There's no doubt he's in line for a correction and big rebound at some point down the road.

LW Simon Gagne, Tampa Bay Lightning
9 goals, 8 assists, 17 points, -17 plus-minus

On-ice shooting percentage: 6.5%
On-ice save percentage: .868
PDO: 93.3
Corsi per 60: +8.0

Although a lot has gone right for the resurgent Tampa Bay Lightning under new GM Steve Yzerman, Simon Gagne must be looking like a supreme bust to this point thanks to lackluster production and his terrible plus-minus rating.

However, Gagne has been victimized by the terrible goaltending that haunted the Bolts through the first half. The even strength save percentage behind him thus far has been .868, which is what one would expect from an NHL goalie…on the penalty kill. Add in that below average on-ice shooting percentage and you have a noteworthy acquisition and worthwhile gamble looking like bust because of straight up bad luck.

Gagne probably isn't a 40-goal scorer anymore and he's highly injury-prone, but he's certainly better than the surface stats suggest right now.

C Tim Connolly, Buffalo Sabres
7 goals, 14 assists, 21 points, -14 plus-minus

On-ice shooting percentage: 6.1%
On-ice save percentage: .887
PDO: 94.9
Corsi per 60: +14.8

Tim Connolly has been a hard luck story for years, but it's usually because of his never-ending trips to the infirmary. The injury woes have continued this season with a broken nose and "lower body injury" claiming more than a few games thus far. However even when he's been in the lineup, the slick center hasn't gotten the breaks.

Despite spending a lot more time in the offensive end at even strength, Connolly is scoring at just a 0.56 point per game pace and is sporting a double digit minus figure. Like the other skaters mentioned, Connolly has seen below average percentages at both ends of the ice thus far, with the added poor luck of the usually solid Ryan Miller doing his best Raycroft impression with Connolly on the ice. The .887 save rate is by far the worst on the Sabres as a result and unless Connolly is routinely using his above average offensive abilities to fire the puck into his own net on a regular basis, it's doubtful he's had anything to do with Miller's inability to stop the puck during his shifts.

Connolly has a $4.5M cap hit this year, but is an unrestricted free agent this coming offseason. His lackluster counting numbers may convince the Sabres to deal him for chump change at the trade deadline, so any contender looking for a viable top six forward would do well to give Darcy Regier a call.

LW Kristian Huselius, Columbus Blue Jackets
11 goals, 7 assists, 18 points, -12 plus-minus

On-ice shooting percentage: 6.5%
On-ice save percentage: .875
PDO: 94.0
Corsi per 60: +17.6

Kristian Huselius arrived in Columbus with a reputation for being a streaky, temperamental player who can dominate one game and then be detrimental the next. The truth is, Huselius earned that stigma during one season under Mike Keenan in Florida, when the crafty yet soft winger earned Iron Mike's wrath and was consigned to the coach's doghouse until he was dealt to the Calgary Flames, where he was able to resurrect his career.

Huselius has been an effective 50-60 point producer ever since and one of the top offensive contributors on the Blue Jackets. He has been hampered by both injuries and the bounces this season though, suppressing his output and resulting in a healthy scratching recently. His Corsi rate of +17.6 is the best on the Blue Jackets (supported by a sky-high zone start of 64.4%) and it's only the percentages at this point sinking his stats. He garnered a two goal, four point outing versus the Edmonton Oilers recently, so perhaps the rebound has already begun.

LW Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils
17 goals, 17 assists, 34 points, -24 plus-minus

On-ice shooting percentage: 5.7%
On ice save percentage: .891
PDO: 94.5
Corsi per 60: +3.3

The Ilya Kovalchuk gambit was a bad bet for the Devils on a number of fronts: not only is he a flawed player who has failed to adequately effect possession to the good at even strength for years, the length and size of his contract meant he would inevitably become a millstone around the neck of the organization if anything ever went wrong.

Things went wrong almost immediately and in every way imaginable. Not only has Kovalchuk suffered from some of the worst bounces at even strength in his career so far, but the Devils total inability to draw penalties thus far (an NHL-low 162 opportunities) has meant less power play time than normal for the sniper. The man advantage is the area where Kovalchuk genuinely excels and any club who wishes to adequately leverage a player of his ilk needs to spend as much time a man up as possible. Add in the long term injury to Zach Parise and Kovalchuk's career-low shooting percentage of 11.0%, and the first year of former Thrasher's endless contract has been a perfect storm of bad.

Kovalchuk wasn't a good gamble, but there's simply no way it was this bad either. Even though he's never going to be a guy to move the puck north efficiently or backcheck with aplomb, Kovalchuk remains one of the most dangerous shooters in the league. He's one of the hotter forwards in the league over the last 10 games, so watch for him to have a big last third of the season.

D Brett Lebda, Toronto Maple Leafs
0 goals, 1 assist, 1 points, -19 plus-minus

On-ice shooting percentage: 0.0%
On-ice save percentage: .862
PDO: 86.2
Corsi per 60: +1.2

Whatever it is Brett Lebda did in the offseason, it angered the hockey gods something fierce. Lebda has never been a great player—mostly a depth defender who can spot in on the third pairing now and then—but this season has been one for the record books. Although his possession rate is middling despite a zone start of 59.7%, Lebda's mediocrity is grossly exaggerated by the percentages he's seen through 22 games played.

Lebda has been on the ice for 226 even strength minutes so far and the Maple Leafs haven't scored a single goal—not one—over that time frame. It's been the exact opposite story at the other end, however, where Gustavsson and company have been Swiss cheese with Lebda on the ice, stopping less than 87% of the shots they've seen.

The former Red Wing has earned the ire of both Leafs fans and coaches and has become one of the most reviled offseason acquisitions in Toronto in recent memory (which is really saying something). Unless the percentages regress and Lebda can find his way back into the lineup, this season may end being a career-killer for him.

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