The title for today’s post is in reference to David Staples’ comments the other day on Gilbert Brule, a player he expects to continue scoring goals – because he fires the puck from close to the net.
I’ve made my thoughts on Brule clear here before, and I don’t want to re-hash an old debate or beat a dead horse, so I’m not going to re-visit those. Instead, I wanted to address the specific point that Staples made in his post:
If you look at all of Brule’s shooting stats from this past season, there are a few good signs. Some hockey commentators like to focus on the number of shots a player gets in trying to determine how many goals he might score, and while I don’t disregard that notion, the more important thing is the quality of those shots.
For instance, was the shot from the kill floor, right in front of the net?
That’s the kind of shot that Penner took this past year, which is why he scored so many goals. His shots were from close in, just 26 feet away from the net on average according to Behind the Net, third best on the Oilers. He also screened the goalie and tipped in shots to help score more goals than any other Oiler. Other players fired shots at the Oilers net at a higher rate, including the likes of Patrick O’Sullivan and Ethan Moreau, but while O’Sullivan and Moreau inflated their shooting totals by launching outside shots at the enemy net — essentially turning over the puck to the other team each time they shot — Penner made his living crowding and crashing the goalie.
And indeed, a quick check of Behind The Net shows that Staples is correct; Gilbert Brule did fire the puck closer to the net than any other Oiler. Brule narrowly edged out two other goal-scoring forwards: Dustin Penner and Mike Comrie. So this should be regarded as a sign that Brule’s shooting percentage is sustainable, right?
Unfortunately, no. Behind the Net also offers us the ability to break down Brule’s five-on-five shots by type – slap shots, snap shots and wrist shots, and a look at that data is revealing:
|Type of Shot||Goals||Shots||Distance||SH %|
The shots included in the total but not broken down by category include one back-hand and three deflections, which Desjardins doesn’t track at Behind the Net, and thus aren’t listed above.
It’s an interesting list, because Brule’s most frequent shot (a wrist shot from in close) had the worst shooting percentage. He had good success with snap-shots, and fabulous success with slap shots – despite the fact that those shots came from far out. That suggests to me that Brule is riding at least a slight shooting percentage bubble. Brule was one of only six players to score five or more slap shot goals at even-strength, and none of the other players – Kovalchuk, Semin, Zajac, Modano and Marleau – had a better shooting percentage than him.
The NHL has links to three of those five slap shot goals, and video of a fourth on their Brule player page:
I’m not sure what the standard success rate is for those shots from the far side of the faceoff circle; I’d guess it isn’t good, though. Certainly Brule’s been snake-bit there before; in the only other NHL season we have a record for he went 0-for-16 with his slap-shot.
Now, there’s an argument to be made here that Brule has a high enough calibre of shot that he can score those goals on a continuing basis. As I’ve indicated, I’m sceptical of that but I don’t have evidence either way and so I’m not going to debate it, and if readers are on the other side of the fence from me all I can say is that I hope they’re right and we’ll get a better idea next season.
The one thing that I think is clear is that last season Brule didn’t goose his shooting percentage by firing from in close.