One of the most basic statistical measurements is one of the game’s most important: shots per game.

While we wait for the advanced stat crowd to tinker and refine their numbers to help us grade player A-through-Z, shots-per-game continues to be a page you can click on, understand, and see a list made up of at least 90% all-stars. Great players pour pucks on net.

The tough part with so many fancy stats is determining what they really mean. A lot of people are pretty sure they have it dialed in, but numbers aren’t always what they seem. For example:

Our junior hockey coach used to bag us for 10 minutes for everyone one of nine goals we didn’t meet in our previous game. He had the scratches record what were then considered “deeper” stats. We had to have 75 hits (seriously), 10 blocked shots, 20% PP conversion etc. (….Yes, he liked to skate us.)

The point I’m making is we’re learning more about our raw numbers – common sense implies that if you got a lot of hits, you didn’t have the puck a lot, and that’s not a good thing. If you’re blocking a lot of shots, the other team is pushing the play too often, and has the puck too often. Also not a good thing.

But shots-per-game is pretty cut and dried – if one guy gets more shots per game because he gets more ice time than the next guy, guess why? It’s because he’s a better player. If one guy has more shots per game because he gets more powerplay time than the next guy, guess why? It’s because he’s a better player (or at least his coach thinks so). If a guy puts up a good number in this statistical category and doesn’t get a lot of minutes or PP time, guess what? He deserves more.

The advanced stat “shots-for-per-60-minutes” is also extremely valuable, and should help coaches have some idea who the players getting the most ice time and powerplay time (that I referenced above) should be.

But enough song and dance – let’s look at the top 30 NHL players in shots-per-game, and see what it can teach us:

(A couple clicks will clear up the image for ya.)

The list reads like a virtual All-Star team. And if you extend the list to 36 (the amount of skaters in the All-Star Game), you add Jarome Iginla, Claude Giroux, Patrick Kane, Tyler Seguin and Marian Hossa to the list, who are also fairly high-ranking NHLers.

Sometimes you talk to a player who says “I’m getting shots, and seeing some good chances, it’s just not going in right now.” When you hear that (and they’re right), calling their play a “slump” is ridiculous.

Take Sidney Crosby’s goal drought - he’s 10th in the NHL in shots-per-game right now (if he had enough games played to be on that list), averaging 3.6. He’s also staring down a 4.7% shooting percentage, less than half of your average NHLer’s, and wayyyy below his career average. Which is a nice way to say, teams should be scared of the day/week/playoff-series that things start to average out the other way.

Another takeaway from that list is Tyler Kennedy’s name. He currently sits 20th in the NHL with an average of 3.3 shots per game, which is nothing to sneeze at. It’s not enough that teams deal with Malkin, Crosby and James Neal, but now you’ve got the Penguins depth players on the front page of the S/G leaderboard too. No wonder the Pens out-shot the Devils by 30 the other night.

So when you’re trying to determine how an offensive forward has been playing, check their shots-per-game and how it’s been trending – this is a valuable metric for gauging play. If they’re finding ways to get pucks on the net, the pucks will eventually find a way to get themselves into it.

Comments (16)

  1. This is great, but I wonder about a guy like Henrik Sedin or other previous pass-first guys like Adam Oates. Heck, Henrik won a Hart trophy and I’m not sure he would have been in the top 50 in shots-per-game.

    • I get your point, but I think it works like this: you can be a great player without getting a ton of shots – your dishers, for example – but it’s rare to get a ton of shots and not be a great player (obviously Kennedy is our exception this year, but he logged a lot of minutes he normally wouldn’t have seen thanks to injuries).

  2. You have to be a little careful here. I watch Tyler Kennedy game in and game out, and in no way, shape or form is he a top player. You also have to consider where the shots are taken from. In Kennedy’s case, his modus operandi is to come down right wing and fire a low percentage slapper. Failing that, he will take the puck behind the net and then shoot from the bottom of the left wing circle. Again, a low percentage shot. he will never be a huge goal scorer only shooting from those places. In fact, his shooting percentage is probably right about where you’d expect to be given his shot distribution.

    • He’s obviously the outlier, but if you can get a 3rd line guy to average over three shots a game, I don’t care where they’re from, he’s doing something right, and adds value to your team.

  3. A lot of times, we like to involve time on-ice figures to balance this out a bit; you’ll still see a similar list, but the idea is that a lot of these guys get a lot of time on-ice too, so they might play 18 minutes per game while another person who’s not on the list might only play about 10 minutes per game.

  4. Shots per game is usually a pretty decent proxy of how good a player is, offensively at least. But a better proxy of a players value to his team is probably ice time because it includes how a coach views the players complete game. It doesn’t penalize the play makers nor does it penalize the defensive specialists. But, coaches are not perfect and there are cross team comparison issues (a good player on a deep team will get fewer minutes than if the same player was playing on a weak team) and that is where I think advanced stats can be best utilized.

    Advanced stats aren’t needed for separating the best players from the worst. We all know that Crosby is better than Alexander Steen and Alexander Steen is better than Scott Nichol. I think what advanced stats can provide is a better perspective on whether Alexander Steen is better than Andrew Ladd or vice versa and whether one of them is benefiting more (or less) because of the team he plays on or because of how his coach uses him. Advanced stats can also help us identify which players might be being misused by his coach or which players are under (or over) valued.

  5. Once again the stats prove St Louis Blues don’t need to have that “ALL STAR” but yet are the best team in the NHL… Guess we shouldn’t tell everyone the secret quite yet! (23rd overall in payroll!)

    • Boston’s top scorer last year had 62 points. You can win without star offensive players if you have good defense and goaltending and quality depth up front.

      • Shhhh…. It’s supposed to be a secret! Plus it’s not like anybody here can name 4 players from the St Louis Blues! Muahhahahah

        • David Backes, Andy McDonald, Chris Stewart, Roman Polak, David Perron, Jaroslav Halak, and Alex Pietrangelo… well, I guess seven isn’t four. =P

          But seriously, you guys do have a good team out there… probably your best in a good dozen years. Good luck in the playoffs.

  6. We changed one of the categories in our league from shooting percentage to shots because we got blackout drunk at a league meeting one night and identified this exact same trend.

    From Crown, if you were wondering…lots of it.

  7. Not that it’s news to anyone that Stamkos is absolutely killing it, but a 19.9% shooting percentage!!?!!!?
    That’s madness! Pro goalies can only stop 80% of his shots on goal. Average save percentage is around 91%
    If his goalie or d-men were good enough to push the Lightning into a playoff spot, there would be no Hart debate

  8. I’m curious to know how rare it is that a top ten scorer doesn’t appear on that list. Jordan Eberle is tied for 8th in goals but you won’t find him on the S/G rankings until the 4th page (2.4), definitely an anomaly. Yet the only guy on that list with a higher shooting % is Stamkos. My initial reaction is that Ebs should be getting more minutes, but is this just a case of Ebs directly benefitting from his ability to pick apart softer competition? What do you think Justin?

    • @ RSD: In 2009-2010 when Henrik Sedin won the Art Ross, he was in 191st place in shots/game with 2.0. And he was 9th in shooting % with 17.5, but he’s more of a passer anyway. Last year was pretty much the same with him, 1.9 shots/game,

      Oh, and Joe Thornton was 8th in points in 2009/2010, and had an even lower shots/game with 1.8.

      In fact, looking at the amount of shots for players in the top ten from previous seasons, I’d say it’s fairly usual to have at least one guy outside the top 30 (or even 50 or more) in shots/game and inside the top 10 in points.

  9. Interesting that, as has been pointed out above, some teams are absent from this list. Notably, Philadelphia and Boston. Those teams also have the most “balanced” offences in the league, I’d say. They aren’t really heavy on top end talent like Pittsburgh, but all three teams have excellent depth. Even though Steen is 29th, I’ll include St. Louis too as balanced.
    Point being, this stat can be skewed by what team a player is on. If the team rolls 4 lines all the time and doesn’t play its top line(s) constantly, those players will end up with fewer shots.
    Conversely, a weak teams better players will get more shots than they would on a better team. Eg. Winnipeg has Kane and Ladd in the top 30 in shots. I wouldn’t put either player in the top 30 in the NHL.

    Having said that, almost all individual stats are skewed by how strong a player’s team is.

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