For all the effort and skill that goes into scoring goals in the NHL, the impact of luck cannot be denied. Players do their best to place themselves in the right positions to put the puck in the back of the net, but sometimes even doing everything right can be undercut by a bad bounce or a stunning save.
That’s just a nature of professional hockey, and it’s something even the best players run into despite their best efforts.
So which Blackhawks players were most snakebitten when it came to scoring goals during the 2017-18 season? Thankfully, we can look to Corsica, which tracks expected goals, an advanced statistic that uses shot type, shot distance, shot angle and other factors (Is it a rush shot? Is it a rebound? Is it on the power play or even strength) to determine the likelihood that a shot will turn into a goal.
The number basically says, “This is how many goals this player should have scored based on these following variables and historical data.”
From there, we can compare how many expected goals each player accumulated to their actual goal totals to see what kind of puck luck they had. It’s not quite a perfect science — for example, some players are better at finishing than others — but this is an interesting look into how good or bad fortune factored into players’ goal production. You can read more about expected goals here.
Expected goals vs. goals
Here’s the breakdown for every Blackhawks player to play at least 100 NHL minutes in 2017-18. A positive differential means you scored fewer goals than expected.
The first thing to point out here is that the Blackhawks underperformed their expected goal total based on the kinds of shots they created. A number of players outperformed their expected goal totals, including Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz by wide margins, but a larger portion of Hawks didn’t finish as many chances as expected.
Richard Panik, for example, recorded 17.34 expected goals against just six real goals. He put together a ton of quality chances in the first half of the season teamed up with Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews, but just like those two big-name forwards, he struggled to convert. Saad had a similarly huge gap with a team-high 28.08 expected goals to 18 actual goals.
For anyone who watched the Blackhawks last season, this shouldn’t be particularly surprising. When Toews and Saad were on the ice together last season, they recorded a 57.1 percent share of 5-on-5 shot attempts, yet scored just 47.6 percent of the goals. A subpar shooting percentage (6.4 percent) is a big part of that, and as the expected goals suggest, it wasn’t simply a matter of poor shot quality.
Toews, Duncan Keith, Anthony Duclair and Ryan Hartman were among other players who didn’t score as much as expected.
What does it mean?
Now, just because Toews and Saad generated a lot of quality chances this season doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll happen again next season. And just because they’ve underperformed their expected goals this season doesn’t ensure they’ll bowl over those numbers next season.
At the same time, players like DeBrincat and Kane seem uniquely equipped to outstrip their expected goal totals given their unique shooting ability. We shouldn’t immediately assume that their goal production will regress next season assuming they don’t improve their shot quality and volume.
But on the whole it appears the Hawks’ scorers were more unlucky than not, and in particular key players like Saad, Toews and Keith were in positions to produce a lot more than they did. That’s a reason for optimism entering a long summer.
Here’s the full list of expected goals vs. goals, plus the difference for each player. All stats provided by Corsica.