At the start of November, Anze Kopitar was leading the league in goals and points, and was getting serious consideration for post-season awards. Everyone expected great things from the young Slovenian, and this was seen as the breakout season that everyone knew was coming. Allan Muir’s November 20th piece for Sports Illustrated was typical of the kind of praise that Kopitar was getting around the league:

Much has been made of a concerted effort over the summer to improve Kopitar’s conditioning, and that’s clearly played a large part in a fast start that sees him leading the league in scoring with 32 points. Never the most physical player despite his 6-4, 220 frame, he is also starting to assert himself down low, winning battles along the boards and doing a more effective job of positioning himself and protecting the puck. Those elements, along with a total commitment to his defensive responsibilities, have made him the focal point for a team finally on the cusp of respectability.

The talk about conditioning actually originated with Kopitar’s G.M., Dean Lombardi, who made comments similar to those he recently made about Jack Johnson toThe Sporting News’ Craig Custance:

“His first two years, he was in brutal shape. This is the first year he made a conscious effort in the summer to get in shape. Bottom line. This is what we forget with a lot of these kids who break in early. They’re so far away in a lot of ways from having developed their bodies.”

Now, Kopitar’s production has (just) dipped below the point-per-game threshold, and people aren’t talking about him as a Hart trophy candidate any longer. What happened?

Regression to the mean happened.

Kopitar has 20 goals on the season, but they haven’t been scored at an even pace; he managed 10 in the season’s first dozen games. In the 39 games since, he’s managed the other 10. The reason has everything to do with luck, in this case expressed as a fluctuation in shooting percentage. Here are the numbers:

  • First 10 goals: 34 shots, 29.4 SH%
  • Next 10 goals: 122 shots, 8.2 SH%

Neither of those reflect Kopitar’s established level of ability, although the bottom number is closer. In the three seasons preceding this one, Kopitar established himself as a 12.6% shooter on just over 600 shots, with his season-to-season totals fluctuating between 10 and 15 per cent. To start the year, Kopitar was scoring at more than double his normal rate.

Additionally, his linemates were as well. Of Kopitar’s goals, six came at even-strength, and he was on the ice for 13 even-strength goals altogether, and his line had an even-strength shooting percentage of 15.7%. Since then, that has dropped by a full third, down to just under 10.0%.

In short, nothing happened to Anze Kopitar, because he was never as good as his stats line indicated early on. Shots went in. Now they aren’t. Over the full season, Kopitar’s shooting percentage is now 12.8%, just a hair above his career average of 12.6%.