Taking a closer look at the top line’s high shooting percentages

The Flames’ sudden jump in shooting percentage is one of the reasons they’re in a playoff position this year. Following my piece, Beloch pointed out the Flames’ top point-getters are all beneficiaries of this phenomenon; and as of today, are the team’s only 20 goal scorers. Kent touched on this some in his most recent mailbag as well.

As Jiri Hudler is experiencing the second best shooting percentage of his career – and up 3.2% from last season – he’s having a career year offensively. Many of us predicted Sean Monahan to regress based on his rookie shooting percentage of 15.7%, but he’s only exceeded that, scoring even more along the way. Johnny Gaudreau’s new so we can’t really compare him to his previous performances, but we can note his clip isn’t as high as his linemates’.

What are they doing to succeed so efficiently?

The veteran

Jiri Hudler’s 18.8% is the second highest shooting percentage of his career; well above his career average of 14.9%, but not too far off from his Flames average of 17.5%. Last season was, in fact, his worst as a Flame at 15.6%.

So what’s changed between this year and last? Via the wonderful Sporting Charts (which is going to feature heavily here), all of his shots and goals:

hudlercomp1

For one thing, Hudler is shooting at a higher rate. For another, he seems to be much more concentrated down the middle now. He’s still taking perimeter shots, but the bulk of his tries are coming in the “home plate” area, or just above it. It’s also worth mentioning that so far this season, on average his shots are being taken about a foot closer to the net than they were last year.

So, how does that translate into just goals?

hudlercomp2

The majority of his successful conversions are coming from the middle, just as they did last season. There’s a higher concentration in some areas, but for the most part, they’re pretty gathered around that home plate area, with a couple of oddities here and there (those symmetrical shots from way above the circles, for example). The oddities are a bit more pronounced from last season, actually, lending support to the idea that Hudler’s success this season derives from shooting more often in prime scoring chance areas.

How does this season – his second best shooting percentage of his career – compare with his best?

hudlercomp3

In the 2011-12 season – Hudler’s final with Detroit – he set a then-career high of 25 goals (just recently broken!) and a still-career high shooting percentage of 19.7%. And it’s pretty easy to see how: look at that massive concentration of shots from right in front of the net. 

Hudler took 127 shots over 81 games that year; this season, he has 138 over 69 games. And that’s something we should take note of: while his most efficient seasons have been the product of Hudler taking the bulk of his shots from right in front of the net, it’s important to remember that this season – an offensive career year for the 10-year NHL veteran – Hudler is on pace to take more shots than he ever has over the course of a full NHL season.

There are two things Hudler is benefiting from. First, yes, most of his shots are coming from prime scoring chance areas. Second, though: the fact that he’s taking more shots in general plays a role in what’s been a great offensive season for the veteran.

The sophomore

Sean Monahan’s only been in the NHL for two seasons, but already, he’s making impressive strides. With 51, he has the most goals out of everyone from the entire 2013-14 draft class; 13 more than second-place Nathan MacKinnon. 

Rather than regressing, Monahan’s only become more accurate. 

monahancomp1

While last season, Monahan was concentrated pretty heavily in one spot, this season, he’s spread out a bit more, covering all areas in the net’s immediate vicinity, but still keeping himself firmly rooted in that home plate area. He still takes shots from just about anywhere, but on the whole, they’re much more concentrated now. His average shooting distance is about two feet closer to the net than before.

Just like with Hudler, though, it’s important to note Monahan is also just plain shooting more in general. His 140 shots over 75 games last season wasn’t bad, but this season, he has 168 over 72 games, on pace for 191 over the course of a full season. 

His goals over these two seasons line right up with where his shots are coming from, too:

monahancomp2

He’s still scoring primarily from the left side of the net, but his goals have taken a bit of a step back. They’re almost all centred around that home plate, with little of that skew to the right side we saw last season. This actually looks like a more sustainable pattern. After all, compare his 2013-14 goals to where he took his shots from: a number came from the right side, where he didn’t have an extremely high concentration from. This season, he’s shooting generously from the home plate, and that’s where almost all his goals have come from.

Going back to the second highest goal scorer of his draft class, let’s look at Monahan and MacKinnon through their young careers so far:

monahancomp3

This is where some degree of luck and individual skill come into account. Over their careers to date, MacKinnon has taken 433 shots, scoring 38 goals and resulting in a shooting percentage of 8.8%; Monahan, meanwhile, has 304 shots, 51 goals, and a shooting percentage nearly double that of MacKinnon’s: 16.6%. MacKinnon, though, actually shoots closer than Monahan on average, and we can see his pretty high concentration of tries directly around the crease. (Monahan has a tendency to invade it a little more.)

Some players just end up being more accurate shooters than others, though. It’s too early yet to tell where Monahan’s really going to top out, but he’s certainly trending that way. Still: as it looks like we’re about to get his first 30-goal season, it wouldn’t be surprising if he failed to reach that tally next year.

(Always keep your expectations low: that way you’ll never be disappointed, and everything else is a pleasant surprise.)

The rookie

Johnny Gaudreau has been a crucial part of the Flames’ offence this season. He also has the lowest shooting percentage out of everyone on his line. While his 13.8% isn’t anything to sneeze at, it’s not at the levels of Hudler and Monahan. And while his 20 goals should be held in high esteem, his linemates have a combined 15 additional goals on him. Looking at his own charts, it’s easy to see why:

gaudreaucomp1

Like Hudler and Monahan, most of Gaudreau’s goals are coming from the home plate; however, he’s had a few from outside of it as well. Also like Hudler and Monahan, the bulk of his shots are coming from right in the slot. Unlike Hudler and Monahan, he’s much more susceptible to taking perimeter shots, ready to try to score at any angle (or at the very least, create some helpful rebounds).

The funny thing? Between the three of them, Gaudreau shoots closest to the net on average by almost four feet. He takes fewer shots from the blue line, instead opting to carry the puck further in before winding up.

It remains to be seen if Gaudreau will end up being an exceptionally accurate shooter like his mentor already is and current centre seems to be turning into, or if he’ll trend more towards league average. Considering how he takes most of his shots from the left side, but most of his goals are in the middle or trend right this season, it’ll be interesting to see how he compensates in his sophomore year. 

Monahan found his comfort zone, and started spreading out more in it. What’s Gaudreau going to do? He’s already shooting more in his rookie season than Monahan did, and while Gaudreau doesn’t boast quite the impressive shooting percentage, he’s only scored two fewer goals, with another 10 games left to make that up.

Gaudreau isn’t as accurate, but his frequent shooting is paying dividends for him.

  • Greg

    The biggest thing I notice in these plots is how much that line is generating from right in front of the net, considering how “small” Hudler and Gaudreau are. So much for needing to get bigger!

    • MattyFranchise

      I’ve noticed, and I’m sure you have as well, that Gaudreau is almost always right in front of the net when his linemates get set up in OZ. That kid’s got balls of steel.

  • MattyFranchise

    Also, thanks for illustrating this arii, it confirms what some of us have seen by the eye test. They are getting to prime scoring areas and converting when they need to. And while Gaudreau may not be as high a percentage shooter as the other two his positioning is clearly helping out his massive assist totals.

  • Skuehler

    Nice to read a piece which shows why I have not been screaming at the TV nearly as much – SHOOT! Hudler especially. He still doesn’t shoot nearly enough but he is getting there!

  • PerryK

    Thanks arii for this article on the highest scoring line in the NHL since March 1! Now only if the other lines can chip in…

    Must be 2 oiler trollers on line today with 2 trashes on each +ive comment!

  • PerryK

    I have been thinking about coaching influenced systems. When a good coach has excellent long range passers available in their defensive core, (Calgary, Montreal, e.g.), they tend to take advantage of that by designing break-outs based on the headman pass. When the pass connects, the other team’s defensive scheme is disrupted in space and timing.

    This naturally, results in lesser possession numbers, but better shot quality (and hence Shot %) and the accompanying higher PDO numbers.

    This is not necessarily as bad (unsustainable) as many experts point out. It is simply maximizing the available assets at the coach’s disposal, and therefore a good thing.

    The way Calgary focuses on long break-outs may explain the unusually high shot %. Thoughts?

    • Craig

      I really don’t think any coaching system makes what the Flames are doing sustainable. They need to outshoot their opponents, if they control the pace and play of a game they will outshoot. Every elite team in the NHL outshoots their opponents more often than they don’t.

      • PerryK

        No, because quantity =/= quality. I’d take a single monahan-in-the-slot over a dozen perimeter shots.

        You don’t control the pace of a game by shooting more. You control the pace of a game by controlling the pace of a game. The Flames can control the pace of games in which they’re outshot, and they’ve outshot teams in games where the other team controlled the pace of the game (like yesterday afternoon, where the Blue Jackets let the Flames shoot right into Bobrovsky’s chest 40 times from outside)

  • Craig

    I think we’ll see that Gaudreau over his career will actually pump up the shooting percentages of his line mates. You can see it from the eye test that he has the ability to set people up for ten bell chances, as well as put himself in the position for high quality chances. He’s a special player that creates excellent offence, it works well that Monahan and Hudler are very smart and skilled finishers.

  • RedMan

    Imagine though if Engellend and Bollig each took an additional 5 shots per game from the blue line – you know, those long beach-ball lobs that never have a chance of scoring but both are well known for, our shots-for and possession numbers and SH% would look better… hey we would then be a possession team! 🙂

  • Shooter 5567

    This is the kind of science that makes sense.

    BTW, No one has yet pointed out that we out shot both Columbus and Colorado and lost both games. Philly out shot us by one.

    Hopefully out shooting our opponent is unsustainable.