Mobntreal Canadiens v Boston Bruins

I’d be willing to bet that if Milan Lucic were hitting fewer players this season rather than more, that may be talked about a little more. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to test that hypothesis since there doesn’t exist a parallel universe.

If you’ve missed it, Milan Lucic hasn’t been scoring much this season and he may be sat out for tonight’s game. He has just six goals in 41 games played this season—on pace for just 12 over 82 games, obviously, compared to 20.6 goals per 82 games over the rest of the games in his career. Despite this… he’s hitting more. Lucic has 2.98 “hits per game” in 2013 compared to 2.48 in 2012 and 2.11 in 2011. I don’t place any stock in the NHL’s real-time statistics, and they’re almost only ever used to confirm a hypothesis and ignored otherwise.

But still, since I asked the question… why is Milan Lucic scoring fewer goals this season?

  Goals/82 GP Shots/GP Shot %
2007-2012 20.6 1.61 15.54%
2010-2012 28.7 2.01 17.39%
2013 12.0 1.63 8.96%

If Lucic were taking lower-quality shots this season, I think it would show up in the data. He’d probably be taking more of them, trying to force a goal from crappy locations. But he’s not. He’s shooting less than he ever did, although .4 shots a game with a 17.39% shooting rate makes a difference 6 goals over 82 games, and Lucic is down 26. The additional 20 could be coming from simple percentages.

Lucic is known for his “fierce play” and I thought it was interesting that given Lucic’s struggles with counting statistics this season, Craig MacTavish talked about acquiring “Milan Lucic-type” players at his introductory press conference. Teams have made some in-roads at the draft to try and develop “The Next Milan Lucic” which emphasizes a size and skill game.

But I’m not wholly convinced that all of Lucic’s production can be attributed to making power plays. Just looking at highlights from goals last season, Lucic capitalized off poor goaltending and plays from his teammates. It’s not too hard to find goals that aren’t those of a big rugged winger:

I think the Bruins are a mis-understood team. For all the talk about the toughness that team exhibits, the year they won the Stanley Cup they had historically-good goaltending. They had the best two-way player in hockey in Patrice Bergeron. They had several talented offensive players who weren’t necessarily known for their toughness in Nathan Horton, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Michael Ryder.

So the mere presence of Shawn Thornton playing 10 minutes a game doesn’t really change that. If not for the “Big Bad Bruins” of the 1970s there may not be an obsession to draw parallels between the 2011 team and those of the past.

Suffice to say, Boston are more talented than given credit for, but when problems arise, it seems as if people are very quick to blame a lack of “physical” play even if that may not be the difference.

As it relates to Milan Lucic, well, let’s look at some rate statistics from stats.hockeyanalysis.com and see if we can spot the difference between the current Lucic and the Lucic of old, counting the years 2010-2011 and 2011-2012. These are all 5-on-5 statistics.

First, goals, assists, first assists, and points per 20 minutes of play:

  Goals/20 Assists/20 First Assists/20 Points/20
2010-2012 1.054 1.352 0.784 2.406
2013 0.511 1.534 0.818 2.045

He’s down in “points”, but it’s almost all from goals. He has more assists this season, and first assists. What about shots?

  Shots/60 Shot %
2010-2012 6.516 16.18%
2013 5.931 8.62%

Almost identical. Shot rate is slightly down, but his shooting percentage is assuredly contributing more to the dip in goals. What about team statistics when Lucic is on the ice?

  Bruins Goals/20 Bruins Shots/20 Bruins Sh%
2010-2012 1.091 15.277 9.88%
2013 1.057 16.259 9.06%

“Shots” there refers to “Fenwick Events” which counts misses as well. “Bruins Sh%” only factors in shots on goal. Anyway, the conclusion you can derive from this is that the other parts of Lucic’s game are in tune. His own individual lack of production isn’t significantly affecting the Bruins in any way. If you’re worried about the Bruins losing 0.034 goals per 20 minutes, well, that comes out to about two total goals per season if you assume Lucic is playing regular minutes. I, uh, wouldn’t sweat that. Interestingly, neither Nathan Horton or David Krejci, Lucic’s two primary linemates, have scored a goal without Lucic on the ice with them at five-on-five this season. Considering his WOWY (with or without you) page shows that Lucic improves the shot differential of nearly every Boston Bruin, I don’t think fewer goals changes a whole heck of a lot.

From Brian Stubits yesterday:

It’s asking a lot for a guy to shoot 17 percent, so that number coming down isn’t really a surprise, but Lucic has maintained a high shooting percentage throughout his career. As noted, he is a career 14.9-percent shooter, which is awfully good. It gets tough to discount a high shooting percentage as luck when it’s done over 400 games. That’s a pretty good sample size.

Without really looking into every shift of Lucic’s career, I’d say that there are enough numbers to suggest that the more predictive shot-differential numbers are closer between Lucic of 2010-2012 and 2013 than any goal statistic. I think he’s performing the same way, but when you’re not producing, you’re not producing and there’s always an impulse to find out exactly why.

Maybe Lucic got lucky for five years, posting an absurdly-high shooting rate on mid-range shots, capitalizing off a few good bounces and inept goaltenders. That’s always a possibility. Or, perhaps, Looch is on a streak of unprecedented futility for him and things are due to rebound, even without too much fixing. I do know that scratching Lucic and taking him off the first unit powerplay probably won’t help him play his way out of the extended slump he’s in.

Remember, when Lucic and Alexei Emelin collided a couple of weeks ago, it was Emelin who took the worse of the hit. Lucic’s frame is no less big than it used to be. He’s hardly shooting the puck differently and it’s not like his own offensive inabilities this season are affecting the team as a whole when he’s playing.

The bottom line is that the Bruins are a better team with Lucic on the ice and it would be silly to scratch him because he’s scoring a little less. Or maybe when he does get to play, he should try to shoot more and hit less.