Earlier tonight I was reading this from Arctic Ice Hockey and my post turkey coma brain juices started flowing. If you follow the link you'll find a write up from Arctic Ice Hockey about the impending "break out" of Blake Wheeler based on his microscopic shooting percentage this season which falls well below his career norms.
Wheeler, as the article points out, is in a slump. Every reason in the book is being given as a possible explanation except for exceptionally bad luck. Reading the uplifting tale of what the future probably holds for Blake Wheeler reminded me that I haven't looked at Stars shooting percentages since the first week of the season. Since then Eric Nystrom has gone crazy on the goal scoring sheet while collecting constant praise. Brenden Morrow and Mike Ribeiro have been criticized for their poor play.
How much of all of these early season reactions are unfounded? The answer is that most of the early season conclusions we've drawn are flawed. Nystrom isn't the second coming, Morrow is shooting as effectively as he ever has, and Ribeiro is plain unlucky. After the jump I'll have a chart that illustrates as much waiting for your perusal.
Shooting percentage can fluctuate pretty violently from year to year. Quite often when a player appears to be in a slump the luck dragons are unfairly taking goals away from that particular player. Conversely if a player is on a hot streak those same luck dragons are letting more of that particular player's shots find holes. Below you will find a table with four years of data. The shooting percentage and shots per game for Morrow, Nystrom, Ribeiro, Jamie Benn, Michael Ryder, and Loui Eriksson are shown over the aforementioned four year period. What sticks out?
The first bullet point that caught my eye was Nystrom's 21.9% shooting percentage. He has the highest shooting percentage of any Dallas Star. Over the previous three seasons his shooting percentages were 4.8%, 12.1%, and 6%. So, obviously, his current goal scoring pace is incredibly inflated. However, we can't ignore how well he has played. He's actually getting less ice time this season than he averaged last year with Minnesota, and no powerplay time despite the amount of opportunities he's generating. The fact that he's mainly playing against third line caliber competition should be kept in mind, but I think the Stars have found themselves a nice third line asset off the waiver wire out of necessity. Eric Nystrom is the most valuable gift Sean Avery ever gave the Stars.
Ribeiro and Morrow have both taken some heat this season. The line hasn't been generating much offensively. Morrow and Ribeiro have -10 and -12 Corsi ratings. Ribeiro has looked somewhat out of sync, but not entirely. The coaching staff has continued to trust him through the down times. I noticed that Ribeiro is still generating the same amount of shots per game that he always does. Over the previous three seasons Ribeiro has been roughly a 12% shooter. This year he's shooting only 4.4%. That low of a percentage isn't likely to continue.
Morrow is in an interesting statistical profile for the exact opposite reasons of Ribeiro. He's shooting similarly to what one would expect from a normal Brenden Morrow season at 12%. The problem, unfortunately, is that he's generating 1.2 shots per game, or roughly half of his 2010/11 total. He's taken about 25 less shots through 21 games than you would normally expect him to take. Those extra 25 shots would likely generate three extra goals given a 12% shooting percentage. He would then have six goals and be tied with Jamie Benn. 25 extra shots on the season for Morrow also eliminates Ribeiro, Ryder, and Morrow's negative Corsi numbers.
I feel like the Morrow lack of shots and the Ribeiro low shooting percentage are connected. The main criticism of the line (aside from Morrow's penalties) has been their mediocre possession numbers. They've continually failed to generate offensive attack zone time over the course of the season. The cycle has been nonexistent. Morrow gets most of his shots by battling behind the net or fighting in front. Without consistent possession most of Morrow's offensive game is neutralized. It seems like Ribeiro's shots have been coming from distance as a result of the lack of possession too.
The past week and a half has seen the Stars work harder to maintain possession of the puck. If those efforts continue both Ribeiro and Morrow should ultimately be fine, but the concern for Morrow isn't unfounded. He has been visibly frustrated on ice and taking way too many terrible penalties to add to his lack of offensive production and negligible defensive value. The coaching staff doesn't appear to approve of Morrow's game either. He now has about the same offensive zone start percentage as Jake Dowell and Stephane Robidas (IE defensive zone minutes), and he's playing mostly against weaker competition while Ribeiro's situational numbers remain the same. It seems like he's being punished, but I don't recall off the top of my head any times where he's been demoted from Ribeiro's line.
Morrow needs to play better, and his track record suggests that he will. Ribeiro will be fine once the luck dragons start being nice to him. Poor Nystrom is eventually going to inherit Ribeiro's luck dragons, and everything will look like it should once again. The Stars still have two good second line pieces and they've found a solid third line contributor. The moral of this story is that we're one quarter of the way through a season in a sport where players constantly go from hot to cold. When we get to game 41 these numbers will look completely different, and the Stars second line will probably be humming right along.