A little over a week ago Philadelphia Flyers’ head coach Alain Vigneault decided to put James van Riemsdyk, Kevin Hayes, and Jakub Voracek together on a line ahead of the team’s game against the New York Islanders. A few days later before the Flyers’ loss to the Florida Panthers Vigneault explained why he put the three together. Over the last three games both Hayes and Voracek have found the back of the net twice. JVR, on the other hand, is currently enduring a nine-game goal drought with only one goal over the last 14 games. It’s safe to say a decent amount of fans are wondering where the goals are and at this point in time it’s a pretty fair question.
When it comes to James van Riemsdyk, the question shouldn’t be if he’ll start to rack up some goals this season but rather when. Through his first full 10 seasons in the NHL JVR has broken 30 goals in a season twice, three more seasons with 27 goals or more, and an additional 20-goal season which he recorded back 2010-11 with the Orange and Black. Even last season when he missed 16 games due to a knee injury he still potted 27 goals in 66 games to be one of only two Flyers last season to break the 25-goal plateau (Sean Couturier had 33 goals). It’s obvious he has the capability to deposit the puck in the net, so why isn’t it happening?
When a goal scorer isn’t scoring it could be for a couple of reasons. One reason is they could be failing to generate as many chances as they usually do compared to seasons when they put up numbers. If it’s clear that they aren’t creating chances or putting themselves in a position for teammates to set them up then the discussion becomes why they aren’t generating as many offensive chances and what do they need to work on to reach those additional opportunities.
Looking at JVR’s numbers for 2019-20 this doesn’t seem to be the case, as his shot rates this season are higher than his rates from last season. His individual 9.31 shots per 60 (compared to 7.82 in 2018-19), 0.96 expected goals per 60 (0.61), and 16.8 individual shot attempts per 60 (13.29) at 5-on-5 are not only on par with his career averages but it shows that he is still doing what he needs to do to score. On top of that, JVR is currently tied with Auston Matthews for 26th in the NHL with 4.73 individual expected goals at 5-on-5 and is 16th with 8.62 expected goals in all situations. These numbers show that he may not be producing as many goals as usual, but he is still getting the usual amount of scoring chances.
A second (and less satisfying) reason why JVR could be struggling to score right now is bad luck. Believe me, I know how annoying that is to hear if you aren’t a fan of the guy, but at the moment it might be the best explanation for his current funk. Going back a second to JVR’s expected goal totals at 5-on-5 and in all situations one can see he may not be getting The Bounces. At 5-on-5 this season 33 players have produced 4.5 expected goals or more. JVR is one of those 33 and his -1.73 differential in goals to expected goals (3 goals to 4.73 expected goals) is the eighth-worst differential among the group.
Looking at the same differential in all situations, JVR is one of 17 skaters this season who has produced 8.6 expected goals or more. His -4.62 differential in goals to expected goals (4 goals to 8.62 expected goals) is not only the unluckiest differential in that group of 17 skaters but it’s the unluckiest differential in the league at the current moment.
Worst differential between goals and expected goals in all situations
|Player||Team||Goals||Individual Expected Goals||Difference|
|Player||Team||Goals||Individual Expected Goals||Difference|
|James van Riemsdyk||Philadelphia Flyers||4||8.62||-4.62|
|Mikael Backlund||Calgary Flames||3||7.19||-4.19|
|Patrick Russell||Edmonton Oilers||0||3.85||-3.85|
|Nick Ritchie||Anaheim Ducks||3||6.82||-3.82|
|Jonathan Marchessault||Vegas Golden Knights||5||8.69||-3.69|
|Brady Tkachuk||Ottawa Senators||8||11.49||-3.49|
|Josh Leivo||Vancouver Canucks||2||5.04||-3.04|
|Joe Pavelski||Dallas Stars||5||7.72||-2.72|
|Kyle Clifford||Los Angeles Kings||2||4.64||-2.64|
|Taylor Hall||New Jersey Devils||4||6.63||-2.63|
|Craig Smith||Nashville Predators||2||4.53||-2.53|
Another strong indicator of whether or not a skater is having some bad luck shooting the puck is their shooting percentage. The league average shooting percentage is usually around 9-10 percent with those considered goal scorers usually clicking at a little higher rate. In JVR’s case his career shooting percentage through his first 10 seasons in the NHL was 11.9 in 675 games. He has only shot under 10.8 percent for an entire season twice in his career (8.7 in his rookie season and 9.1 in 2011-12) and five seasons where he has shot over 12 percent. One of those five seasons with a high shooting percentage came last year when JVR scored 27 goals on 167 shots for a conversion rate of 16.2.
At the moment the former Toronto Maple Leaf has connected on four of his 68 shots on goal so far in 2019-20 for a shooting percentage of 5.9. If he throws pucks towards the net at the same rate he currently is throughout the rest of the season and his shooting percentage doesn’t break six percent it’ll be hard to chalk up his season to anything other than bad luck.
Fortunately for JVR and the Flyers there’s still plenty of time for the American forward to start accruing goals. It may not come when he’s getting fourth line minutes with Scott Laughton and Tyler Pitlick, but he won’t be on that line forever. Vigneault has shown early on that he just fuckin’ loves mixing up the lines to see what he’s got with this team. He might be on the bottom line for another game or potentially the next few, but the Orange and Black will eventually hit another rut (as teams do) and JVR will work his way back into the top nine. It’s hard to see a player who is getting as many chances as JVR continuing not to produce alongside one of the tandems of Oskar Lindblom and Sean Couturier or Claude Giroux and Morgan Frost while hopefully playing a little more motivated to prove he should have never been on the fourth line.
*Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and Hockey Reference