By The Numbers: The Blue Jackets and Those Pesky Shoot-Outs

Sweet as Taffy... unless your offense can't answer in the skills competition. - Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

We've covered a lot of territory these past six weeks or so in "By The Numbers," and Heaven knows we'll cover a bunch more once the season starts and some real numbers start heading in. In the second-to-last installment of BTN Pre-Season, we look at an area that really hurt the Jackets last season: the shoot-out.

The Jackets took part in 13 shoot-outs last season, and went 5-8. So, in shoot-out games where 26 points were available, the Jackets took home 18 points. That's not horrible on its face. However, after beating Detroit in a shoot-out on January 14th, Columbus at that point was 4-1 in five shoot-outs. They then dropped six in a row, in the midst of their "playoff chase." Such is life in the NHL of three-point games, but those points are just arbitrarily sitting there, asking to be taken. And, when they needed them most, the Blue Jackets couldn't take them.

In this post, we'll look at the worst culprits, and see where the off-season additions to the club might be able to help out a bit.

First, let's set some baselines. Throughout the NHL, the averages were as follows:

All 30 teams' shooters combined to go 324-for-1059, or 30.6% in the shootout. Therefore, conversely, all 30 teams' goalies stopped 735 of 1059 shots, or 69.4%. If you divide by 30, you'd get the expected average stats for a singular team. Those numbers shake out to: 10.8 goals on 35.3 shots, and 24.5 saves on 35.3 shots.

Now, let's look at the Jackets' overall results compared to those league averages. I charted each of the shootouts, and documented the individual performances of each player. Though it was possible to chart shots that were "saved" by the goalie versus those that "missed" the net, we're going to give the goalie the benefit of the doubt and charge both missed-nets and saves against the shooter. So, while Steve Mason might not have technically "stopped" a shot that missed the net, perhaps he did something to take away a hole and force the miss. There's just no way to really track those plays versus plays where the shooter just biffed. So, keep that in mind as you look over the following chart.

For the chart, the date, opponent (including home vs. away), and result are noted. The goalie for Columbus is listed, and the numbers included are his successful saves against total attempts. Then, the shooters for Columbus are listed, in order, with either "score" for successful goals or "miss" for either a missed-net or saved chance. Here goes:

Date Opponent CBJ Goalie CBJ Shooters
10/28/10 vs. EDM - W Mason 2-2 Nash score, Filatov score
12/01/10 vs. NSH - L Mason 2-3 Voracek miss, Nash miss, Vermette miss
12/06/10 vs. DAL - W Garon 2-3 Nash score, Filatov miss, Wilson score
12/27/10 vs. MIN - W Mason 1-2 Nash score, Wilson score, Huselius score
01/14/11 vs. DET - W Mason 4-4 Nash miss, Wilson miss, Huselius miss, Vermette score
01/18/11 @ TB - L Garon 3-4 Nash miss, Wilson miss, Huselius miss, Vermette miss
02/16/11 vs. LA - L Garon 1-2 Nash miss, Calvert miss, Huselius miss
03/01/11 @ VAN - L Mason 5-8 Nash score, Upshall miss, Voracek miss, Calvert miss, Vermette score, Tyutin miss, MacKenzie miss, Umberger miss
03/07/11 @ STL - L Mason 1-4 Nash score, Wilson miss, Tyutin score, Vermette miss
03/15/11 vs. BOS - L Mason 1-2 Nash miss, Tyutin miss, Upshall miss
03/22/11 @ COL - L Mason 2-3 Umberger miss, Nash miss, Brassard miss
03/29/11 vs. FLA - W Mason 3-3 Nash miss, Mayorov score, Calvert miss
04/01/11 vs. CHI - L Garon 2-3 Mayorov miss, Kubalik miss, Voracek miss

First impressions? Steve Mason seems to be feast or famine in the shoot-out; seems to be his trend overall, no? Mase stopped 21 of 31 chances, for a 67.7% rate, which was slightly below the league average. For his career, he sits at 65.6%, so he was actually better in 2010-2011 than he had been in previous years.

Conversely, Mathieu Garon stopped of 8 of 12 chances for a 66.7% save percentage, also slightly below league average. For his career, Garon stops shoot-out chances at a 74.7% clip, which is slightly above average. In other words, he as good as he had been in years-past.

As a unit, the Jackets' goalies faced the sixth-most chances in the league (43), and stopped 64.7% of those chances (29), good enough for 15th in the NHL in terms of percentage and slightly below the overall league average. That's not horrible, but it's also not terribly great, either.  

But, Mason and Garon don't bear all of the responsibility, here. Look at those shooting stats. Here they are broken out individually, ranked by percentage:

Nikita Filatov: 1-for-2, 50.0%
Maksim Mayorov: 1-for-2, 50%
Rick Nash: 5-for-12, 41.7%
Antoine Vermette: 2-for-5, 40.0%
Kyle Wilson: 2-for-5, 40.0%
Fedor Tyutin: 1-for-3, 33.3%
Kristian Huselius: 1-for-4, 25.0%
Matt Calvert: 0-for-3, 0.0%
Jakub Voracek: 0-for-3, 0.0%
R.J. Umberger: 0-for-2, 0.0%
Scottie Upshall: 0-for-2, 0.0%
Derick Brassard: 0-for-1, 0.0%
Tomas Kubalik: 0-for-1, 0.0%
Derek MacKenzie: 0-for-1, 0.0%

TOTAL: 13-for-46, 28.3%

In terms of scoring percentage, that ranks 20th in the league, and is two percent below the league average. Columbus actually scored a couple more shoot-out goals than the league average, but needed the 6th-most chances (46) in the league to do it. Columbus actually tied for 7th-most goals on the shootout, but they had the second-lowest conversion percentage of any of the top-16 goal-scoring teams in the shoot-out. So, what does that mean?

Flatly, it means that Columbus stands to earn a lot more points in the shoot-outs if they can just get that conversion percentage up even a small amount. Look again at the chart above; from the middle of January to the middle of March, the Jackets missed out on six extra points. Now, at the end of the day they still wouldn't have made the playoffs with those six points, but it certainly would have kept their hopes alive a lot longer.

Looking Forward

Well, the biggest offensive addition to the club is of course center Jeff Carter. I must admit to thinking that a pure goal-scorer such as Carter--what with the scads of YouTube clips of him breaking in on goalies and beating them like so much rented livestock--would be a very successful shoot-out participant. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. For his career, Carter is a miniscule 3-for-19 in the shoot-out, for a 15.8% success rate.

In fact, in his six full years, Carter had five years in which he didn't even score a shoot-out goal (he had attempts in each season). He hasn't scored a shoot-out goal since the '07-'08 season, and that was the only season he had success: 3-for-6. He's 0-for-13 otherwise. So, while I'm not going to definitively say that Carter may not help like I'd personally hoped, it sure looks like Carter may not help like I'd personally hoped.

What about Vinny Prospal? Well, he's actually not too shabby in the shoot-out. Despite a couple of seasons in which he didn't take a shot, for his career he's 6-for-15 in the shoot-out, which is good for 40%. So, this makes Prospal a decent option to add to the stable of shooters each time.

Don't forget about James Wisniewski. He's probably not going to be a top option, but much like his fellow top-pair defenseman Fedor Tyutin, he has some shoot-out experience. He was 0-for-2 this past year--both with the Canadiens--but in his career he's 2-for-5, which is also 40% success. It's not a huge sample size, but it says that in a pinch he might be able to contribute.

Also, for his part, I was only able to track down Ryan Johansen's shoot-out stats from this past season, and he was 0-for-1. In other words, his team didn't go to him that often in the skills competition. When I spoke to him this morning as the team left for Traverse City, he told me that Portland had so many other danglers that he wasn't really an option, and that he considers himself more of the playmaking center. He'd love to help out on shoot-outs, but with the skill in Portland last year he just wasn't considered one of the top shoot-out guys.

The Wild Card

 Here's my wild card: Mark Dekanich. For his part, he wasn't stellar in terms of stats in the shoot-out last season for Milwaukee: he had a 4-5 record, and stopped 27-of-46 shots, or 58.7%. But, it's not his stats that interest me. It's the hand with which he catches.

Columbus had a unique scenario the past two season in that both of their goalies were right-handed catchers; the majority of NHL goalies are left-handed catchers. I remember Rick Nash saying that it was "totally different" to shoot against a right-catcher vs. a left-catcher in the shoot-out, because the spots the shooter picks are inverted and different. So, logically speaking, if you have one dominant move that works against one side, it might not work nearly as well against the other.

What does this mean? Well, the past two years, the Jackets have been practicing ONLY against right-handed catching goalies in their shoot-out practice, and then going out and taking their shots against mostly left-handed catching goalies in the actual games. As you might guess, based on Nash's comments, that would make the game scenarios "totally different" than what they've been practicing.

Back at the end of the regular season, I asked Scott Howson if that factored into his decision in goal going into the off-season. His response was non-committal, though he did acknowledge the issue:

"I think it is difficult for players to always face two right-handed goaltenders is practice and when they practice shootouts. Most of the goalies [in the league] are left-handed catchers, so I think that is difficult. Is it gonna sway us one way or the other? I don’t think so. But, we understand that that’s an issue."

However, when Dekanich was signed, Howson did mention it as a factor.

So, who knows how big a difference it may make for the shooters to practice against goalies who catch with both hands, but it will certainly help to have Dekanich there to practice with, if only because it gives guys practice against the shooting holes of a left-catching goalie.

How much does a move like that translate into goals for shooters? Only time will tell, if in fact it helps at all. In addition, how does a move like bringing in a full-time goalies-coach--and a good one, at that--translate into better results from the net-minders? Again, only time will tell.

Overall, though, the addition of Vinny Prospal should help a little, as he's had success in his career in the shoot-out. Antoine Vermette has been solid, and if Huselius comes back at any point in the season and can contribute, his career numbers are decent: 12-for-36, 33.3%. 

Of course, if the Jackets can win more games in regulation, none of this would matter. Here's hoping...

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