Number cruncher: Plekanec’s comparables

Thursday, 09.01.2014 / 6:50 AM / News
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Number cruncher: Plekanec\u2019s comparables
This week, let us take a look at the underlying numbers behind the Czech\u2019s underrated scoring touch.
MONTREAL – A prototypical do-it-all player for the Canadiens, centerman Tomas Plekanec has quietly crept up to 29th on the franchise’s all-time goal scoring list with his 169th tally as a Hab against Tampa Bay on December 28 2013. This week, let us take a look at the underlying numbers behind the Czech’s underrated scoring touch.

Quality

As a rule of thumb, the average NHL shooter is successful once for every ten shots he takes. Now, it is true that a player’s talent level can impact his shot percentage, but the difference in shooting percentages between an All-Star and a replacement-level player is a lot smaller than one would assume. The simplest way to explain this phenomenon is that skilled shooters tend to throw the puck on net more often in hopes of getting a good bounce, somewhat negating their superior finishing ability. As a Hab, Maxim Lapierre, a forward known more for his tenacity and defensive acumen than for his wrister, shot for roughly 8%. Meanwhile, Michael Ryder, one of the sharpest shooters drafted by the Canadiens in the past twenty years, hit pay dirt on 12.5% on his attempts on net during his years in Montreal.

Looking through the NHL’s stats sheets, we find that the large majority of forwards in the league tend to score at a rate somewhere in between that of Lapierre and Ryder over the course of a full calendar year. Hot and cold streaks inevitably affect the bottom line, but only in the short term. Lars Eller started the 2013-14 season on fire, shooting over 42% in his first five games before seeing his conversion rate fall toward his career average of 11.3%. Meanwhile, David Desharnais failed to convert in his first 22 shots of the season, but has scored at a 19% clip ever since.

Quantity

For his part, Tomas Plekanec is a solid, but unremarkable 11.0% in his major league career. If a player wants to score consistently in the NHL, he’ll have to rely on volume. Therein lies the Czech’s secret to success. Indeed, what makes Plekanec a perennial source of goal scoring is the quantity of pucks he habitually puts on opposing nets.

Top MTL shooters since 2009
            Player                     GP  G   S%    S
1     Max Pacioretty           245 84 11.0 3.11
2    Mike Cammalleri      170 54 10.3 3.07
3       Brian Gionta            263 84 10.4 3.06
4     Tomas Plekanec      329 91 10.1 2.75


For someone known more as a passer than a sniper, Plekanec is prolific at generating scoring opportunities with his shot. In the past five years, his 2.75 shots per game is in line with the shooting rates of Thomas Vanek (2.81 SPG), Anze Kopitar (2.81) and Martin St. Louis (2.72), while leading that of Patrice Bergeron (2.61) and Claude Giroux (2.45). In addition, the only Habs to be more adept at putting pucks on net than the Czech centerman have led the team in goal scoring in every single season since 2009.

A final note: Plekanec is operating near his career averages in both shooting quality and quantity this season. He is averaging 2.60 shots on net through 42 games, while converting on 11.9% of his attempts, a testament to the consistency and durability of the tenth-year NHL pro.

Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.

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