Game Notes Oilers @ Stars: Why Is Nugent-Hopkins Scoring More

Photo credit:Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
11 months ago
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is off to the best start of his 12-year career. He has 17 goals and 38 points in 33 games and is on pace to shatter his career high of 28 goals and 69 points set in 2019. In every offensive situation, he is scoring at an unprecedented rate. The question is: Why?
— It is fair to point out that in 2018 Nugent-Hopkins had 24 goals in 62 games. He was on pace for 32 that year. And in 2020 he had 61 points in 65 games which was a 77-point pace. But injuries forced him to miss games. Even if you take his best pro-rated seasons, he is still on pace to crush them and score 42 goals and 94 points. I’d be surprised if he reached those lofty heights but scoring 30+ goals and 70+ points is very realistic.
— It is easy to look at his 20.2 shooting percentage and say he’s on a heater and getting lucky. That is a generalization, and honestly it is the easy, lazy excuse. Scoring isn’t just about luck, at least not over the long term. It is not that simple. I’ve noticed a difference in his shot selection and where he is shooting from this year. He is much closer to the net, which is where most of the goals are scored. He also seems to be using his snapshot more.  Is this true? Let’s take a look.
— Here is a look at his shot attempts, shots on goal, shots blocked, missed shots and then shots from the slot (SS) and inner slot shots (ISS).
He is averaging 2.54 shots/game, up slightly from 2.42 last year. Last year 20.7% of his shots were blocked, but this year it is only 14.5%. He is missing the net at a higher rate, but of those 27 misses five are posts. He hit four posts last year. But the major difference is where he is shooting from. Last year he averaged 1.31 slot shots/game and 0.57 from the inner slot. This year he’s at 1.63 slot shots and 0.82 inner slot shots per game. The majority of NHL goals are scored from the slot, and this year he is getting more shots in the Green Zone.
It isn’t just a heater. He has made a concerted effort to get closer to the net and he’s been rewarded.
— He’s also using his snapshot more. Here is a look at his snapshots, snapshot goals, wrist shots and wrist shot goals.
He’s already taken 33 snappers and has 11 snapshot goals. He had three and two in each of the previous two seasons. His shots are coming from closer to the net and he’s using his most accurate and dangerous shot more frequently. The result is a career-best start. His SH% might drop, but the increase isn’t due simply to luck. Scoring is a skill, and if you want to score more you must take more shots from the slot and inner slot. But you also need skill to finish. You can’t just fire away from those areas and expect to score 17 goals in 33 games.
— Shot volume can also be a factor. RNH isn’t shooting more than in the past, but Buffalo’s Tage Thompson is. He is averaging 4.56 shots/game after firing 3.24 last year, 2.52 the year before and 1.06 in 2020. And he’s using his slap shot much more frequently. Thompson has seven slap shot goals on 31 attempts. He had 33 attempts all of last year and a combined total of 15 in the previous two. He spent the summer working on his one-timer as well as his wrist shot. Now he has confidence in both, and confidence for many shooters can be the magic potion.
— Connor McDavid is up to 4.05 shots/game this year. He’s had a steady increase in each of the past five seasons, but this is the first year we’ve seen a significant uptick in goals.  From 2019 to now he averaged 0.53, 0.53, 0.55, 0.59 and 0.85 goals/game. This year he is shooting in motion more and shooting through players. McDavid is using his snapshot much more this season than in the past and it has led to more goals. He already has 44 snapshots after firing 30, 26, 42 and 47 the past four years. He has nine snapshot goals already after scoring three, five, six and eight in the previous four seasons. When you see people suggest a player’s SH% is unsustainable, it is best to look first and see if the shooter has changed their approach in some way.
— Both RNH and McDavid are scoring more, due to some changes in their shot selection or distance, and even if their goals/game slow down somewhat over the final 49 games, both should have career years due to subtle changes in their approach. McDaid is shooting through players more, while RNH made it a focus to get closer to the net.
— Last year RNH had 20.7% of his shot attempts blocked. This year it is 14.6. I wonder how much distance has to do with that, as well as getting the shots off quicker. It is something to watch for, but that is a significant drop in shots blocked.
— Dallas forward Jason Robertson enters tonight third in the NHL in goals with 24 behind Thompson (26) and McDavid (28). Robertson scored an impressive 41 goals last year, but he is on pace to score 59. He likely won’t maintain that pace. He went seven games without a goal before scoring on Monday v. Columbus. He still will likely set a career high and will push for 50 goals. Like Thompson he has increased his shot volume. In his rookie season he averaged 2.49 shots/game, last year it was 2.97 and this season he’s at 4.09. His favourite shot is his wrister. He’s used it 75 times and has 15 goals. His snapshot is also lethal, as he’s scored six goals on 24 snapshots. He has one slapshot goal on 14 shots and no goals on eight backhand attempts. He gets his wrist and snapshot away very quickly, and the Oilers defenders can’t give him time and space in the slot. He leads the Stars with 69 slot shots.
— Edmonton’s power play is on fire in December. It has 17 goals in 10 games including two goals in each of the last four, and seven of the 10 games this month. They PP is averaging 1.7 PP goals/game this month while the Stars’ averages 0.60. They have six goals on 31 attempts. Dallas has a very good penalty kill and they don’t take many penalties. They’ve only been shorthanded 26 times this month which is fifth fewest in the NHL at 2.6/game. And their PK is fifth best at 84.6% allowing four goals on the 26 kills. Can they slow down the Oilers potent power play?
— The Oilers are 4-4-2 this month while Dallas is 6-2-2. Edmonton has outscored teams 39-31, while the Stars have outscored opponents 30-24. Edmonton is +8 (albeit six of those came in the victory over Arizona), and the Oilers have only managed four wins. They have played well for long stretches in games, but the split-second bad decisions have cost them games. They need to be more focused. They seemingly let their guard down and pucks end up in the back of the net. They can’t gift Dallas any goals if they expect to win. Make the Stars work for their goals.
— Edmonton has improved its starts this month. The team has scored first six times and is tied with Buffalo for the most first period goals with 12. They’ve also scored the most second period goals, 16, but they’ve allowed the second most (15). Offence isn’t the Oilers problem. It is limiting goals. Until the group dedicates itself to being more consistent defensively, the team will hover just above the .500 mark.


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