"Oh God they’re coming for me!"
I believe that shot location is critical in assessing a players’ shooting percentages, and probably has some bearing on the sustainability of a player’s goal totals. If, for example, a player collects a pile of goals shooting from the tops of the offensive zone faceoff circles, I would expect that teams would begin to notice the pattern, make adjustments, give their goalies time to see the shots, and for our hypothetical sniper to score fewer goals in the future. On the other hand, if a player is fast and/or skilled enough to drag the puck close the net before shooting, but doesn’t wind up with many goals, I’d expect bounces to start going their way more often before too long.
Nikolai Kulemin’s 17.3% shooting percentage in 2010-11 has been the cause of much debate. Just how lucky was he to score 30 goals? In 2008-09, he had a shooting percentage of 11.6% and in 2009-10 he shot 11%, for a career average of 13.6, so most of us are inclined to expect a regression. Were his shot and/or goal locations so different last season? I’ve got all his away game data at even-strength from three seasons published over the jump, so read on for more.
What I find encouraging in these three graphs is the obvious shift deeper into the zone that Kulemin’s shot locations have made. In his first season, many (that is, not quite half) of his shots came from between the blue line and the tops of the faceoff circles, but that ratio changed for the better in his second year, and even more noticeably so in his third. Moreover, his outside shots form two, neat 45-degree angles to the goal line, which suggest he’s shooting off the rush while driving to the net. It’s tough to say exactly what spurred this shift (because I don’t want to start arbitrarily assigning narratives to this data), but it was probably some combination of added strength, conditioning, coaching, and quality of linemates and competition. I believe that these factors are largely sustainable, and that Kulemin’s shots in this coming season will look very similar, which is good news to Leafs fans.
In terms of his goal production, Kulemin really only scored from very close to the net in his first two seasons. Really, he didn’t have any long-bomb or bad-angle shots going in at all. While he wasn’t horribly unlucky, it’s not surprising to me that as his shot totals increased and his locations generally got closer in, he potted a few lucky goals.
In 2010-11, he has three goals that stand out as less-than-ideal shooting locations: there is one goal in the centre of the very-high slot, one from inside the circle (and this one isn’t terrible), but behind the faceoff dot, and one from behind the net. If we remove those three goals (where, statistically, he was lucky to have scored from), and take consider them saved shots, his shooting percentage drops to a more realistic 15.6%. Given that these are only even-strength goals on the road, it’s reasonable to assume that there are more bad-angle shots that went in on home ice, and that begins to account for some part of his elevated shooting percentage. It’s not that he won’t get any lucky breaks next year, but I don’t know how much more his shot locations can improve to compensate if there is a lack of puck luck next season.
Long story short, I think that Kulemin’s game has improved substantially so as to afford him better chances on net, and that this is a sustainable aspect of his game. Goals that come from outside a ten-foot radius outside of the crease and the low slot? Not so sustainable. If I had to hazard a guess, I think we’re looking at a player whose shooting percentage will dip to the 13-15% range, and, without a large (and unprecedented) increase in his shot totals, we’re looking at a 22-25 goal-scorer.