Commentary

Front Line: Counting missed shots

Updated: January 31, 2011, 2:41 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

The All-Star break is also a celebrated moment for us fantasy junkies because it allows for a minute to stop, take a breath, and reassess the landscape in the NHL. With a break from the usual 24-hour cycle of statistics, the break allows for some extra stat crunching with the knowledge that things aren't going to change in a couple hours.

The premise this week is simple enough: taking a closer look at shots and shooting percentage by calculating for missed shots. Shots on goal are one of the statistics in the standard ESPN game, but the NHL also keeps track of shots that don't necessarily hit the goal for each player. If we want to speculate on how the shooting landscape might change during the remainder of the season, shouldn't we account for the total number of times a player fires the puck? A little more luck and focus could easily mean missed shots move over to the shots-on-goal statistic.

Take it a step further and realize that a shot is a necessary part of the formula for a goal. It's the only ESPN standard category that is actually a precursor for another category. A player doesn't need a point to gain in plus/minus. A player doesn't even need a goal for a power-play point (it could be an assist). But a player cannot score a goal without taking a shot. That is where the shooting percentage comes in. Just how many of those shots are going in the back of the net? What if we adjusted for missed shots?

Just a little more housekeeping before I get into some analysis. I looked at just the top 100 goal scorers this season before toying with the numbers (stopping at Tuomo Ruutu's 12 goals), so when I mention a ranking, it is only ranked against this top 100 list, not the entire NHL. When I talk about total shots, it means shots on goal plus missed shots. Adjusted shooting percentage is goals divided by total shots (multiplied by 100 for our round percentage).

[+] EnlargeAlexander Steen
Scott Rovak/US PresswireAlexander Steen is getting many chances to score, but he's missing a lot of shots that could be counted as shots on goals.

Alexander Steen, St. Louis Blues: Steen's work on offense may be somewhat underrated because his aim is a little off. The workhorse on a Blues team hit hard by injuries to top offensive options, Steen is only 24th in the league for shots on goal with 158, but is tied for second overall with 91 missed shots. Steen is planted quite firmly on the opposite wing of David Backes, as his 36 points would suggest, and he doesn't appear to be vacating that spot as the Blues are starting to get some bodies back from the infirmary. If Steen can start turning a few more of his missed shots into shots on goal, one could expect his goals to increase as well.

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: It should be no surprise to learn that even Ovechkin's missed shots are down this season. He averaged 7.5 total shots per game last season, but is averaging just over 6.6 this year. He still manages to lead the NHL in missed shots with 106. His adjusted shooting percentage and regular shooting percentage are worse than every forward studied, except for Henrik Zetterberg. Is it a bad thing that Ovechkin misses the net so often or that he is being saved so often this season? Not necessarily in this case. You know what you bought into with Ovechkin: He fires the puck at the net so often it's hard not to score 40 goals. The real key here is that Ovechkin has never had a shooting percentage below 10.6 percent, but he's currently at 8.1 percent, even though he is still taking a decent amount of attempts toward the net. Something has to give. His final 31 games of the season should be a significant improvement on the first 51, and if he can be obtained for even the slightest discount, it is probably a worthy investment.

Drew Stafford, Buffalo Sabres: Super accurate. What else can we say about Stafford based on these numbers? With only 18 missed shots in 31 games, Stafford jumps into the top 10 for adjusted shooting percentage. This indicates that Stafford takes a lot of high-percentage shots in close to the net. The math is not difficult to do: In 31 games Stafford, has 15 goals, so how many could he score with 31 games remaining in the season? Don't be surprised to see Stafford finish with more than 30 goals. He's available in 80 percent of ESPN leagues.

Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals: At the risk of discussing too many players named Alexander, it may be worth pointing out that Semin misses a lot of shots. Is it a symptom of the name? Semin has missed 71 shots this season despite only taking 127 shots on goal. He is ranked 53rd in this player pool for shots on goal, but 31st for total shots. Like Ovechkin, Semin is well off the pace to match his numbers from last season, and that includes his shots on goal. It does appear as though the accuracy of his shots may be playing a big role considering his shooting percentage remains consistent. Again, it would have to be an improvement in his focus we can't quantify with statistics, but Semin does appear poised for a stronger finish to the season. He is expected back from a thigh injury shortly after the All-Star break.

Top 100 Forwards

Note: Sean Allen's top 100 forwards are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. ESPN standard stats include goals, assists, power-play points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Steven Stamkos, TB (1)
2. Sidney Crosby, Pit (2)
3. Daniel Sedin, Van (3)
4. Brad Richards, Dal (4)
5. Alex Ovechkin, Was (5)
6. Corey Perry, Ana (6)
7. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (7)
8. Henrik Sedin, Van (8)
9. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (17)
10. Martin St. Louis, TB (10)
11. Alexander Semin, Was (11)
12. Jeff Carter, Phi (12)
13. Dany Heatley, SJ (9)
14. Anze Kopitar, LA (13)
15. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (14)
16. Jonathan Toews, Chi (15)
17. Eric Staal, Car (16)
18. Ryan Kesler, Van (20)
19. Mike Richards, Phi (19)
20. Bobby Ryan, Ana (21)
21. Danny Briere, Phi (22)
22. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (18)
23. Patrick Sharp, Chi (23)
24. Rick Nash, Cls (24)
25. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (25)
26. Joe Thornton, SJ (26)
27. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (27)
28. Mikko Koivu, Min (28)
29. Marian Gaborik, NYR (29)
30. Paul Stastny, Col (30)
31. Loui Eriksson, Dal (31)
32. Alex Burrows, Van (32)
33. Claude Giroux, Phi (33)
34. Patrick Kane, Chi (34)
35. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (35)
36. James Neal, Dal (36)
37. Scott Hartnell, Phi (37)
38. Teemu Selanne, Ana (38)
39. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (39)
40. David Backes, StL (47)
41. John Tavares, NYI (41)
42. Milan Hejduk, Col (42)
43. Martin Havlat, Min (43)
44. Justin Williams, LA (46)
45. Dustin Brown, LA (44)
46. Chris Stewart, Col (45)
47. Logan Couture, SJ (54)
48. Milan Lucic, Bos (51)
49. Matt Duchene, Col (48)
50. Shane Doan, Pho (49)
51. Stephen Weiss, Fla (50)
52. Patrice Bergeron, Bos (63)
53. Johan Franzen, Det (40)
54. Andrew Ladd, Atl (52)
55. Nathan Horton, Bos (53)
56. Ryan Smyth, LA (55)
57. Marian Hossa, Chi (56)
58. Jeff Skinner, Car (68)
59. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (57)
60. Thomas Vanek, Buf (58)
61. Mike Ribeiro, Dal (66)
62. Phil Kessel, Tor (59)
63. Evander Kane, Atl (60)
64. Scott Gomez, Mon (61)
65. David Krejci, Bos (62)
66. Ryane Clowe, SJ (67)
67. Alexander Steen, StL (69)
68. Brenden Morrow, Dal (64)
69. Patrick Marleau, SJ (65)
70. Joe Pavelski, SJ (70)
71. Brian Gionta, Mon (71)
72. Brandon Dubinsky, NYR (72)
73. Tuomo Ruutu, Car (78)
74. Ryan Malone, TB (74)
75. Ville Leino, Phi (75)
76. Steve Downie, TB (76)
77. Brooks Laich, Was (77)
78. Chris Kunitz, Pit (81)
79. Mike Cammalleri, Mon (79)
80. Patric Hornqvist, Nsh (80)
81. David Booth, Fla (82)
82. Jason Pominville, Buf (83)
83. Drew Stafford, Buf (92)
84. Travis Zajac, NJ (84)
85. Rich Peverley, Atl (85)
86. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (86)
87. Vaclav Prospal, NYR (NR)
88. R.J. Umberger, Cls (87)
89. Nikolai Kulemin, Tor (88)
90. Wojtek Wolski, NYR (89)
91. Mark Recchi, Bos (99)
92. Dave Bolland, Chi (90)
93. Bryan Little, Atl (91)
94. Mikhail Grabovski, Tor (93)
95. Ray Whitney, Pho (98)
96. Matt Moulson, NYI (95)
97. Derick Brassard, Cls (NR)
98. Dustin Penner, Edm (96)
99. Sean Avery, NYR (97)
100. Jarret Stoll, LA (NR)

Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators: No one can accuse Alfredsson of not being consistent. He ranks 21st in shooting percentage and 25th in adjusted shooting percentage. The main problem is that he has such a great shooting percentage because he isn't taking very many shots. With only 91 shots on goal this season and 35 missed shots, Alfie ranks 92nd in total shots. His fantasy owners need him to start firing that puck with some frequency. Alfredsson is on pace for his lowest shots-on-goal total of his career. There is plenty of room for improvement with Alfredsson and he can probably be acquired at a bargain basement price.

The only thing I think I've convinced myself of after sifting through these stats is that the numbers could mean different things for each and every player depending on the situation. Jeff Carter misses a lot of shots, but he takes a lot of shots. It doesn't likely mean anything. But a guy like Chris Kunitz, who also misses his fair share of shots, could improve his numbers greatly with a few more shots on goal (especially considering who is setting up those shots).

You may draw your own conclusions as to what the missed shots data might mean, so here are a few more names: Andrew Ladd, Nikolay Zherdev and Milan Hejduk all rank higher in adjusted shooting percentage than regular shooting percentage. That means very few missed shots for those players. Kunitz, Mikhail Grabovski, Mike Richards and Taylor Hall plummet in the rankings when you compare adjusted shooting percentage to regular shooting percentage. I think Hall's drop is due to a lack of focus and could mean a big breakout, but I think Grabovski's adjusted shooting percentage means he has been lucky a few times.

Still, once we have a few more seasons of missed shots numbers from the NHL it will offer some insight into slumps and streaks for players.

Rising and Falling

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (no movement): There is still no definite timetable, but we'll take an optimistic approach on Crosby's potential return from a concussion. If you assume he misses another five games at worst, he still ranks only behind Steven Stamkos. Any more than five more games and the rest of the pack begins to start passing Crosby in subsequent weeks.

Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings (up nine spots): Expected to return immediately following the All-Star break, Datsyuk jumps in the rankings. To be on the safe side, he is still outside the top 10, but if you are assessing a trade involving him right now, be aware that his peak value the rest of the season could be as a top-10 fantasy option.

Johan Franzen, Detroit Red Wings (down 13 spots): This isn't a direct reflection of Datsyuk's return to the lineup (though it probably doesn't help Franzen's fantasy value). Franzen's slide has to do with a closer look at all of his stats and making them line up with where he should be going forward. The Mule scores like crazy, and as much as we always talk about goals being king in fantasy hockey, there are other categories too. Franzen has assist and plus/minus totals worth ignoring, and he draws very few penalty minutes. Hanging around a ranking of 50th just makes more sense for him.

Scoring Lines

Nik Antropov, Atlanta Thrashers: Antropov started the season in this top 100, but was sent packing soon after he became a third-line player for his club. However, since returning from a five-game absence, Antropov has seven points in 11 games, a big improvement on what he was doing for the first half of the season (18 points in 35 games). For Antropov to really benefit, coach Craig Ramsay would have to move him to one of the lines that get 18 to 20 minutes a night. While that move may not be imminent, Antropov is certainly playing like a guy who should be a bit further up the depth chart.

Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins: First, the recommendation was to pick up Patrice Bergeron. Then when the line stayed hot, it was Mark Recchi's turn. Now, let's toy with the idea of picking up Marchand. A fierce puck-battler, Marchand is the third member of the Bruins line that just "clicks." This unit has been red hot since early January and while Marchand may be trailing Bergeron and Recchi in the points column, he does have 11 in the 11 games they've skated together. I'll reference back to the opening of this column and note that Marchand is 12th in the league for adjusted shooting percentage, as well.

Power Plays

There are a few players who have been mentioned in recent weeks that are still available in many leagues who you should look to for power play help. New Jersey Devils forward Brian Rolston should be the first guy to pick up. With coach Jacques Lemaire back at the helm, Rolston is in his comfort zone and scoring like mad. … Then look to Jakub Voracek of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Back where he belongs, on a line with Rick Nash and Derick Brassard, the trio is having success on the man advantage. … Finally, the Calgary Flames power play has been finding its sweet spot before the All-Star break. That means available players like Olli Jokinen, Brendan Morrison and the exceptionally streaky David Moss could make for good plays.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He was the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can tweet him @seanard.

ALSO SEE