Milan Lucic & Empty Net Goals

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There’s a good reason that people like me don’t spend a lot of time looking at empty-net goals: the simple fact is that they don’t happen all that often.  A good team might pot a dozen of them in a season, and so for the outliers it is a factor worth adjusting for, but it never has much impact on the overall numbers.

Generally, it’s the same story for players.  Since the NHL lockout, the league leader in empty-net goals has never had more than four or five in a single season, and generally the guys putting that many in the net are scoring in the 50-goal range anyway.

For Milan Lucic this season, however, empty-net goals are a statistic well worth looking at.

I was alerted to that fact by Team 990 reporter Conor McKenna, who tweeted the following:

#Bruins Milan Lucic has more empty net goals (5) than fighting majors (3) this year, according to fightcard at hockeyfights.com.

Lucic is on pace to break the post-lockout record for empty-net goals scored in a season.  He has five already, which ties the best mark, and at his current rate will pocket seven before the buzzer sounds on the 2010-11 regular season.

It’s an exceptional mark, even on a franchise enjoying the success Boston has this season.  The Bruins as a team have scored 10 empty-net goals, meaning that Lucic has as many as the rest of his teammates combined.  It is also an exceptional mark for Lucic; with 26 goals total, those five into a gaping cage represent a hair under 20% of his total goal-scoring.

Is it likely to hold up?  I would say not.  Last season the entire team managed just four empty-net goals all season, and Lucic had just one of those.  It was also the only empty-net goal he scored in the first 200 games of his NHL career.  It seems unlikely that Lucic’s run as the game’s foremost scorer of empty-net goals is destined to be especially lengthy.

What does it mean for Lucic’s goal totals if we ignore those five empty-netters?  First off, it means that rather than being on target for 36 goals, Lucic would be just shy of the 30-goal pace, with 29 projected goals.  It also drops his shooting percentage from flat-out unsustainable at 20.5%, to merely elite at 17.2%.  It should be noted that the latter pace is still 30% better than his pre 2010-11 career rate of 13.2%, though we might account for that by noting his increased usage on the power play.

None of this is meant as a slight against the player, but I think the logical conclusion is obvious: Lucic is scoring goals at an unsustainable rate, and barring a big increase in his shot totals it would be wrong to expect the same production from him going forward.

Comments (3)

  1. I think it says more about the coach’s confidence in him, and his position during those situations. The number of empty net goals shouldn’t indicate much about anybody’s shooting/goal-scoring abilities. It does indicate who is out on the ice protecting the lead in the last minute of a game, and who is pressuring the puck down toward the empty net.

  2. @LH That’s exactly the point… Don’t look at it as an indication of his goal scoring. Guys just don’t score them that often.

  3. Last game Lucic quoted that he waited for the puck to roll into the net so Krecji can get credited, but had to directed it in because it wasn’t going to make it in on its own. Team player!

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