2
Photo Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The goals will come soon for Nylander

When a player returns after a long period of time, from an injury or other restriction, people want to point to an exact event and declare that player as back to normal. But now that it’s six games since Nylander’s return and he has yet to score a goal, some fans might be getting a little twitchy.

He’s played a total of six games and only has two assists to his name, so far. It doesn’t look good for the people that want some instant success, but there is some much-needed patience required after a player of his magnitude returns from such a long time out of the league.

When Nylander is out on the ice this season at 5v5, the Leafs have 55% of the unblocked shot attempt share – that leads the team in that category, only six other players are at or over 50% and two of them are Martin Marincin and Justin Holl. So clearly the Leafs are a much better team on both ends of the ice when Nylander has been out there. It’s a small sample size (like Marincin and Holl), but the Leafs are producing chances at an extremely good rate with Nylander out there.

The only thing that isn’t going the Leafs’ way when the Swedish forward is out there is actually putting the puck in the net. As a team, they have a 4% shooting percentage with Nylander and that is bound to regress positively to the norm.

Even his linemate Nazem Kadri is having a down year offensively when he’s out on the ice, but his on-ice shooting percentage is close to double to that of Nylander’s, at 7.38%. That third line just isn’t getting all the puck luck that this Leafs team has been blessed with this season.

It’s not even just the on-ice percentage, but Nylander individually is shooting at an incredibly high rate that is bound to rise that personal shooting percentage from literally zero.

He is independently getting unblocked shot attempts off at the fourth-highest rate on this team, with an iFF/60 of 11.86 – that number places him in the 11th-percentile of all skaters in the NHL that have at least 50 minutes of TOI.

Getting unblocked shot attempts off at a higher rate than players like Nathan McKinnon, Brady Tkachuk, and the extremely hot Jeff Skinner right now is bound to come back to Earth. Some of those pucks must just make their way into the net sooner or later, or he would be one of the unluckiest players in the league.

Even looking at shots that force the goalie to make a save, Nylander is in the upper echelon of players so far this season.

Nylander’s SOG/60 is third on the Leafs, with him generating 9.36 shots per hour, and not that close behind the players above him either. John Tavares (9.86) and Auston Matthews (9.76) are the only players on this team getting more pucks on net than Nylander has been.

Again, comparing that number to the rest of the league, Nylander is actually now in the ninth-percentile of players in SOG/60. That’s the type of number that is so easy to digest and understand why as a fanbase, no one should be worried that he still has a zero in the goals column.

Nothing like this will last forever, looking back on last season’s numbers there can be some similarities with just some players having unlucky seasons, but nothing this terrible.

Max Pacioretty was generating 9 SOG/60 at 5v5 last season, while his personal shooting percentage was down at 4.72% he was still able to net 0.43 Goals/60 at 5v5. Apply that number to Nylander’s six games and you get about half a goal that should be his – an arbitrary number but it still shows that a historically unlucky season last year for Pacioretty still gives Nylander at least one single goal with a little luck involved.

Currently, Nylander is getting PDO’d to all hell and he is bound to bounce back with a massive performance in the next couple of games. Especially when you consider where Nylander is getting those shots off on the ice.

data via MoneyPuck / viz by Sean Tierney

Just six games into his season and Nylander is able to get this many clean looks at the net – following in his teammate’s footsteps and not even thinking about shooting until he sees the whites of the opposing goalie’s eyes.

That cluster of shots right in front of the crease is what is key to understanding that the goals will come for Nylander. Even in MoneyPuck’s expected goals model, Nylander is sitting at an xG of 1.476. Putting him in the same exact rate of xGoals/60 (0.91) as Columbus forward Pierre-Luc Dubois – the only difference is that Dubois has 11 5v5 goals this year. Clearly punching above his weight, but once the luck turns around for Nylander, he might just be seeing the same rate of production as Dubois.

No matter what, the way that Nylander is getting the puck on and around the net is immensely valuable and he will see his individual goal total rise this season. Even just looking at even-strength numbers it is clear that he will soon get those lucky breaks and the puck will end up behind the opposing goalie.

It’s just some damn puck luck.