Claude Giroux is an incredibly good hockey player. You're on this website, so you already know that. We can maybe sit around and debate exactly how incredibly good he is, or where he ranks among the NHL's elite. But he's good. No idiot would ever suggest otherwise.
Still, he -- like any other player, great or not -- is subject to criticism on occasion. Be it well-thought-out and reasonable criticism, or the kind that you'll hear yelled from the drunk guy in section 208 at the Wells Fargo Center that probably doesn't have much substance to it at all, it'll happen.
Maybe the most common criticism I've read of Claude Giroux's game over the past few seasons, since his ascent to the NHL's elite really began, is that he can be a little bit too unselfish. That he'll maybe pass to a teammate one too many times, giving up a good shot of his own in the process. Or that he just needs to stop thinking and put the damn puck on the damn net, y'know?
I've said it before. Without remembering a specific instance, I know I've seen an opportunity between Giroux and Voracek wasted, said/openly thought "Giroux's gotta just shoot that puck", and then grumbled to myself "he always does this". I'm sure a lot of you have, too.
In reality? I have no idea if Claude Giroux passes up good shots more or less than the average skilled hockey player. Odds are he probably doesn't. Maybe we're just programmed to remember those missed opportunities more often for a guy like Giroux, who does incredibly impressive stuff on a nightly basis and makes it look so easy in the process that you can't help but remember when things go wrong.
But if you've ever thought to yourself that Claude Giroux needs to shoot the puck more, be aware: so far in the 2014-15 season, he's been listening.
SHOOOOOOOT! (He is!)
The following, via the invaluable hockey-reference.com, is a ranking of NHL players so far this season in terms of shots on goal taken per game, through the games of Wednesday, October 29.
|Per Game Stats||Team||Pos||G||A||Pts||GC||Shots|
There are a number of names on there that you'd expect. Two of the league's premier offensive defensemen, Erik Karlsson and Keith Yandle. Arguably the NHL's best goal-scorer, Steven Stamkos. And a noted recent Philadelphia Flyer/Larry Bird impersonator.
But as you could surely guess by now, we're mostly interested in the third name on the above ranking. About three weeks into the NHL season, Claude Giroux is putting the puck on net more frequently than all but two players in the entire NHL. His ranking isn't quite as high if you only look at 5-on-5 play and adjust for ice time, but he sits tenth in the NHL in that as of this writing, which is still quite impressive.
Is this out of character for Giroux? Let's compare his numbers from this season so far to those from the four previous seasons, looking at his overall per-game totals and seeing where he ranks compared to regular NHL skaters.
|Year||Shots per Game||NHL Rank|
Quite a leap, in both his own numbers and his rank among NHL skaters.
To frame this another way, let's look at how many shots the Flyers are taking with Giroux on the ice, and what percentage of those Giroux is taking. For completeness' sake, we'll look at shots on goal as well as all shot attempts (Corsi). (Table below is at 5-on-5 and per 60 minutes, numbers via stats.hockeyanalysis.com.)
|Year||Giroux SOG/60||Team SOG/60||% SOG taken by Giroux||Giroux Corsi/60||Team Corsi/60||% Corsi taken by Giroux|
You can see how Giroux's individual shot rates and share of on-ice shots taken have both spiked this season. It isn't quite as pronounced by looking at Corsi, and the reason for that is anyone's guess (is Giroux doing something that leads to him putting more of his shots on net?).
In any case, what we've seen from Giroux offensively so far this year is far different than what we've seen from him in years past. He was always capable of getting the puck on net like a top-liner, but putting up almost five shots per game on net blows his old paces out of the water and puts him right up there with the NHL's best at it. And him taking a much larger share of the shots that the Flyers take with him on the ice only further hammers that point home.
Can he keep this up?
So Claude is racking up shots like nobody's business. When I first saw that, the two questions that then came to mind were "is there any way he keeps this up the rest of the season?" and "if he's doing this, how the heck does he only have two goals so far?" We'll address those two questions in that order.
To the question of "is this sustainable", the short answer is "no, probably not". At this point in their career (right in the middle of Giroux's prime, at 27 and having played over 400 NHL games), NHL players don't tend to drastically change their games so much that they go from shooting the puck about two shots per game more than they used to. With rare exceptions, it just doesn't happen. It could, but I wouldn't bet anything on it.
So then the question shifts to "well, if he's not going to keep this up, then is what's happening now just totally random chance, or is it possible that something more is at play here? Is whatever he's doing enough that we can safely expect him to keep shooting more than usual?"
Giroux's nine-game opening to this season has seen him put up 43 shots on goal (4.78 per game). Of all of the previous nine-game stretches that Giroux has had within a single regular season since he came into the NHL, none of them have seen him do this before. Before this, Giroux's previous career-high for shots within a nine-game stretch of play was 41, set between January 22 and February 12, 2012.
Because a graph can explain this better than I can with words, below is a moving average of Giroux's nine-game stretches since he came into the NHL, with his average shots per game in each one included. You'll notice the big green arrow pointing to his one such stretch so far this year; you'll also notice that dot because it's above all the rest of them.
Players have hot streaks and cold streaks all the time, and if this happened in December or February or whatever we probably wouldn't think much of it. But for him to open up the season already setting a career-high in something surely makes one wonder.
So if you're wondering if something like this is a product of random chance or could possibly be statistically significant, we can try and answer that with something called a t-test. As Eric T. summarized back in 2011 when talking about Ilya Bryzgalov's poor play in the earlier part of the 2011-12 season:
Statisticians have a simple method for testing whether the difference between two samples is significant, called a t-test. It measures the probability that you could have gotten a difference that large just by random chance, without a true talent difference.
In this case, we'll take the shooting profile of Claude Giroux over the previous three NHL seasons (in which Giroux played 207 games and shot the puck 2.91 times per game) and compare it to what he's done so far this season (nine games, 4.78 times per game). If we do that, the odds of Giroux's current stretch of shots occurring purely by chance is somewhere around 1.95 percent.
Typically, the threshold past which something is declared "statistically significant" is around 5 percent. This still doesn't guarantee that what Giroux is doing right now is more than chance -- and again, it certainly doesn't guarantee this level of production moving forward -- but it does give us a pretty good reason to believe that, so far, he's consciously looking to shoot the puck more.
So where are the goalz?
So Giroux has 43 shots on goal. He's firing it more than he ever has. That's pretty neat. But he's also only got two goals on the season (marking a shooting percentage of 4.7%), which maybe explains why it's largely gone unnoticed. How have those goals come?
|Situation||Goals Scored||Shots Taken|
Indeed, not one of Claude Giroux's 31 even-strength shots taken this season (including 29 at 5-on-5) has found the back of the net, and both of his goals have come on the power-play. It's some unfortunate luck on Claude's end.
The good news, and we've gone through this before (to think, this is the conversation we were having this around this exact same time last year ...), is that a guy who typically scores on 11.8 percent of his shots doesn't usually spend too long seeing only 4.7 percent of his shots end up as goals. If Giroux keeps shooting like this (and yes, that's still a significant if), the goals will pile on soon.
In the interest of disclosure, I did find one interesting bit of information regarding Giroux's shots so far this year. Below, you'll see the average distance on each shot that Claude Giroux has taken, courtesy of the NHL play-by-play logs, along with the number of shots in each game state (5-on-5, 5-on-4, or All) in parentheses.
|2013-14||34.0 ft. (138 shots)||38.0 ft. (58 shots)||35.5 ft. (223 shots)|
|2014-15||40.3 ft. (29 shots)||47.2 ft. (10 shots)||42.1 ft. (43 shots)|
It's worth noting that NHL play-by-play logs are not to be taken as gospel and sometimes aren't even close to the actual distance of the shot taken. And with the number of shots we're dealing with for this season, it's still small enough that one or two weird ones can skew the whole thing (which is certainly part of the issue -- for instance, Giroux was given credit for a 95-foot wrist shot against Dallas on the PP; if that is removed, his average distance at 5-on-4 drops all the way to 41 feet). But the larger shot distance seems to be there, so there could be some credence to the idea that Giroux's shots are maybe coming from farther, less dangerous areas.
With that said, though, Giroux's game has never really revolved around taking in shots super-close to the net (we briefly discussed this a couple offseasons ago), so I don't think I'd jump to the conclusion that Giroux's huge bump in shot rates is due to his suddenly deciding to take a ton of low-quality shots. And even if you do buy into that theory, no amount of "low-quality shots" will be enough for Giroux to maintain a paltry 4.7% shooting percentage, or a goose-egg at even strength -- in other words, his increased shot rates that we've discussed would more than make up for any drop in "quality".
Claude Giroux has pretty much always been seen as a pass-first-and-always kind of guy by a lot of people who watch this team, potentially to an unfair extent. There have been times that all of us have just wanted to see him shoot the damn puck more.
And this season, he's doing it. Far, far more than he ever has before, and as often as almost any player in the NHL. He's probably not going to keep shooting the puck almost five times per game, but it sure looks like he's consciously trying to shoot the puck more. The shots haven't quite been finding their way into the back of the net yet, and that's frustrating, but the overwhelming odds are that will change in time if this keeps putting the puck on the net like this.
Giroux's newfound tendency to shoot the puck certainly hasn't come as a detriment to his playmaking abilities (his nine assists are tied for fourth in the NHL as of this writing), so if he's able to even come close to keeping this level of shot production up over the rest of the season, it's scary to think of how good he and his line can be. And for a team that's going to need as much help from its top forwards as it can get, that's welcomed news.