Alex Ovechkin a Perfect Example of Why the NHL’s ‘Shooting Percentage’ is Flawed

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Since the beginning of the 2011-12 season, Alex Ovechkin has scored 116 goals, which is tops in the NHL over a three-year period. That’s impressive. More impressive is Steven Stamkos, who potted 105 despite missing 45 games this season with a shattered leg.

In order to get those 11 extra goals, Ovechkin took 753 more shots than Stamkos.

That 753 is not a typo.

The NHL has been tracking Shooting Percentage (Sh%) as an individual statistic since the 1967-68 season, and at 19.52% Stamkos is significantly ahead of Ovechkin (13.39%).

But Sh% alone doesn’t tell the whole story.

Sh% represents the percentage of shots that hit the net and bulge the twine. In 1967 it was probably seen as a pretty clever way of measuring how good a guy was at turning chances into goals.

But here’s the problem. If you fire the puck and the goalie makes a great save, that counts against your Sh%. If you flutter it wide or get blocked, take a mulligan. Because if the shot doesn’t hit the net, your Sh% isn’t affected.

Nowadays, you can find an incredible level of detail on every game, with every faceoff, shot, block, hit, giveaway and other in-game event meticulously documented.

So all those shots that miss the net or are blocked can be found somewhere, and people like Darryl Metcalf at pull this data on a daily basis and share them with the world.

A couple of months ago, we looked at 27 elite scorers and which opponents they were getting their goals against.

This time we took the same 27 players and looked at what happened when they decided to shoot the puck. We tallied how many of their shots made it to the net, missed, got blocked and went in.

We then took the percentage of total shot attempts that went in, a number we call True Shooting % (True Sh%).

For example, if Nazem Kadri fires the puck 100 times, misses 50 times, gets blocked 40 times and scores 5 times, his Sh% would be an incredible 50% (5 goals divided by 10 shots that made it to the net).  But his True Sh% would be only 5% (5 goals divided by 100 attempts).

As it turns out, Ovechkin doesn’t do a great job of getting his shots on net. Specifically, he managed to hit the net only 50.32% of the time during the past 3 seasons.

That was dead last in our group, and well below the 27-player average of 57.62%. Phil Kessel, meanwhile, sat in third last at 54.28%, while Zach Parise and Jonathan Toews occupied the top two spots, at 68.86%and 68.28% respectively.

So while Ovechkin and Kessel have respectable Sh% when compared to their peers in the table below (Ovechkin ranked 11th of 27 while Kessel was 19th), if you look at their True Sh%, both of these top scorers look less scary.

Kessel, who had 14 goals fewer than Stamkos over a 3-year period, required 364 more shot attempts (1,332 in total) to get there. Meanwhile, Toews managed 79 goals on a mere 744 attempts. In other words, to keep pace with Toews on goals, Ovechkin and Kessel had to shoot the puck more than 1.5 times as often.

We can’t say what would happen in an alternate universe where Ovechkin and Kessel shoot the puck less or Toews shoots more.

Personally, I think a blocked shot or miss is more likely to cause the play to turn the other way, while a shot that hits the net is more likely to lead to a goal, rebound or offensive zone faceoff. In other words, players who miss a lot may be shooting when holding the puck or passing is the better play.

If I’m right, there’s a cost to how Ovechkin and Kessel get their goals. A lot more study is required to say for sure, and we’re already looking into that question.

What we can say for sure is Sh% alone doesn’t tell us nearly enough about how good players are at converting opportunities into goals.

Tune in next week and we’ll explain why some guys miss the net more often than others.

NHL Article

*All statistics are totals for the 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.

The Department of Hockey Analytics employs advanced statistical methods and innovative approaches to better understand the game of hockey.  Its three founders are Ian Cooper, Dr. Phil Curry and IJay Palansky.  Its website is

1 reply
  1. Rick
    Rick says:

    I’ve always been a bit amazed by the way shots on goal (and sh%) are calculated, but there are some difficulties with either as a statistic. Some players simply don’t shoot accurately and others don’t shot accurately on purpose. I’ve seen many times where (generally made by defensemen) shots are made intentionally slightly off target so that there is a chance of a bounce, tip, or rebound off the boards. Since you can’t be certain of intent, you can’t really call them errant shots. Not sure how to account for those in stats.

    Shots that are blocked by the defense before they reach the net, however, often end up as an opportunity for one of the teams. Sometimes they enable a counter-attack, and sometimes they end up with a recovery by the offensive team who then have the advantage of having a defensive player down on the ice for a second or two. I haven’t seen anyone calculate the % of blocks that are recovered by the offense vs. those recovered by defense. There are times when I’m not sure that blocking a shot from the blue line is a net positive considering the high risk of injury and the low percentage of long shots that go in.

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