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Posted at 10:57 AM ET, 09/26/2011

Statistical analysis: Is Alex Ovechkin an elite scorer or just a good shooter?


Alex Ovechkin has tallied the most goals (301) in the NHL since the lockout and is already fifth all time in goals scored per game. He has also taken at least 704 more shots than any other skater over that same time span. Does that mean he's an elite scorer, does the Capitals captain just score a lot because he puts a ton of shots on net?

One way to measure the effectiveness of a scorer is to look at the player’s shooting percentage over a sufficiently large enough sample size to minimize the influence of luck. In this case, we will look at the 80 forwards who have taken at least 1,000 shots since the 2005-06 season.


For the most part, the differences in shooting percentage aren't that big, although Ovechkin does find himself in the bottom third among the NHL’s most prolific scorers.

But you may have noticed a problem here: Using the aggregate shooting percentage as a method of evaluation doesn't account for shots taken during even-strength versus those taken with the man advantage.

Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, for example, scores on 16 percent of his shots overall. With the man advantage that number balloons to 19 percent, meaning he has scored on one out of every five shots he takes on the power play over the past three years. Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby has converted on 17.7 percent of his shots and is fairly consistent, whether playing five-aside (18.2 percent) or with the man advantage (16.4 percent).


Compare that to Ovechkin, who, like Crosby, is consistent during even strength (11.8 percent) and with the man advantage (10.2 percent). However, unlike Crosby, Ovechkin is just slightly above the league average of 9 percent.

There's another flaw with using the aggregate shooting percentage as a method of evaluation: It doesn't account for where those shots originated. Certainly a shot from the scoring area, loosely defined as the top of the circle in and inside the faceoff dots, is a better scoring opportunity (thus carrying with it a higher shooting percentage) than one fired from behind the blue line.


Again, Ovechkin lags way behind his peers in terms of efficiency and is barely better than the average NHL forward over the past three years.
Why is this important?

The Great Eight has seen his shots per game totals drop over the last few seasons, bringing his goals per game average down along with it. Fewer shots this year could mean fewer goals.


Let’s be clear, though: Creating the shot itself is a skill, and it is one that Ovechkin has in abundance. Since his rookie season, Ovechkin has led the NHL in shots on goal by a wide margin, averaging 64 more than any other skater. Given that, we should expect his goal-scoring numbers to be inflated. But if he continues to take fewer shots per game, his goal totals will most certainly decrease because his finesse with those shots appears to be only slightly better than average.

Follow Neil on Twitter: @ngreenberg

By Neil Greenberg  |  10:57 AM ET, 09/26/2011

 
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