Oy, that Eric Staal miss in the final minute, right on the doorstep, was the potential game tying goal.
What a comeback it would have been, from 3-1 down on the road, to send the game into overtime by scoring two goals in the last 90 seconds Ė shades of the shocker that Carolina pulled against New Jersey in the waning seconds of Game 7.
How did the young superstar, one of the top 25 scorers in the NHL (40 Goals, 35 Assists, 75 Points, +15, +11.1 offensive GVT), blow that sitting duck?
Donít throw rotten vegetables at your computer screen when you read this, but itís a harder shot than it seems, even given the point blank range and even with the back of the net wide open. Having to accurately redirect a pass at an exactly 90 degree angle is a difficult timing exercise for the shooter. In baseball, imagine positioning a right handed batter directly behind the plate, in place of the catcher and umpire, directly facing the pitcherís mound and asking him to send a pitched fastball accurately to his immediate left. The timing is difficult in itself, but complicating matters is that the ball/puck is coming straight at the batter/shooter Ė the lack of angle does not allow depth perception to help you judge how fast it is coming. This recalls another rule in baseball, that balls hit directly at outfielders are the most difficult ones to judge. With these points in mind, itís not surprising that Staal was slow on his swing, putting his shot embarrassingly back into Fleury instead of into the gaping, empty net.
Yeah, itís a reasonable excuse, but it looked damn ugly. When you say that ď[Insert name of clutch player] puts that one awayĒ, itís hard to argue. Just remember that the next time that you see a similar flub, itís a harder skill than it seems on the surface.
The Staals are streaky players, both Eric of the Hurricanes and little brother Jordan of the Penguins. Therefore, itís not surprising to see that out of the top 30 goal scorers in the NHL this season, that the elder Staal had the 2nd lowest shooting percentage, at 10.8% Ė Though when you score 40 goals and have a better shooting percentage than Alexander Ovechkin, it doesnít seem quite so bad. Like Ovechkin, Staalís secret to lighting the lamp is in throwing tons of rubber on goal Ė His 372 SOG were second to Ovechkinís near-record tally of 528 SOG. Having the speed and skill to get off 372 SOG in a regular season at even a 10.8% clip is nothing to sneeze at, but we should keep in mind that Staalís strengths and weaknesses may be different than those of other top scorers fitting a different profile.
Shooting percentages of top 30 goal scorers, lowest to highest
Player Team Pos G SOG S%
Alexander Ovechkin WSH L 56 528 10.6
Eric Staal CAR C 40 372 10.8
Daniel Sedin VAN L 31 285 10.9
Corey Perry ANA R 32 283 11.3
Evgeni Malkin PIT C 35 290 12.1
Jarome Iginla CGY R 35 289 12.1
Zach Parise NJD L 45 364 12.4
Patrik Elias NJD L 31 247 12.6
Mike Green WSH D 31 243 12.8
Pavel Datsyuk DET C 32 248 12.9
Marian Hossa DET R 40 307 13.0
Jason Spezza OTT C 32 246 13.0
Jeff Carter PHI C 46 342 13.5
Shane Doan PHX R 31 230 13.5
Johan Franzen DET C 34 246 13.8
Sidney Crosby PIT C 33 238 13.9
Brad Boyes STL R 33 220 15.0
Dany Heatley OTT L 39 258 15.1
Patrick Marleau SJS C 38 251 15.1
Rick Nash CBJ L 40 263 15.2
Alexander Semin WSH L 34 223 15.2
Mike Cammalleri CGY L 39 255 15.3
Simon Gagne PHI L 34 221 15.4
Phil Kessel BOS C 36 232 15.5
Ilya Kovalchuk ATL L 43 275 15.6
Jason Arnott NSH C 33 196 16.8
Jonathan Toews CHI C 34 195 17.4
Alexander Frolov LAK L 32 176 18.2
Thomas Vanek BUF L 40 211 19.0
Loui Eriksson DAL L 36 178 20.2
Now, letís turn to the passer on that play, the other Hurricane forward of note this postseason Ė the enigmatic Jussi Jokinen. Jokinen first made a name for himself in 2005-6 with the Dallas Stars, when he gained a reputation as an outstanding shootout specialist by going 10 for 13 (76.9%) to capture the league title for shootout goals. In fact, Jokinenís mark of 10 shootout goals has been matched since but has never been exceeded. Jokinen also posted a fine 5 for 12 (41.7%) shootout rate for Dallas in 2006-7, but has disappeared from the shootout leaderboard in the past two seasons, having played significantly minimized roles with Tampa Bay and Carolina.
You would think that such shootout prowess would translate to certain hockey skills, but what? Itís not speed, which you can quickly surmise by watching Jokinen play and which you can infer from his zero career SHG Ė not a sign of an ability to get the occasional breakaway on the penalty kill. We can conclude that Jokinen a pure finisher, whose skills are limited in overall play. To underline this point, take a look at the young Finnís career regular season and postseason PPG per total goals and compare them to levels of other players:
G PPG PPG/G
Regular Season 54 22 40.7%
Playoffs 8 3 37.5%
Total 62 25 40.3%
Top 30 scorers, 2008-9 33.1%
All players, 2008-9 27.7%
Jokinen, playoffs 2008-9 6 2 33.3%
The PPG per G index does not mean that Jussi Jokinen is the most effective power play scorer since Mario Lemieux; what it does tell you, is that his limited offensive skills -limited to finishing- allow him to be proportionately much more useful to his team on the power play than at even strength. Unfortunately, this is not how the Carolina coaching staff has utilized him, by and large:
PP 22.18 1.48
ES/SH 210.95 14.06
Total 233.13 15.54
In 7 games, Jokinen logged less than one minute of power play time and in 11 games, he logged less than two minutes of power play time.
Further highlighting this strength Ėalbeit in a small sampleĖ note Jokinenís exceptional shooting percentage on the power play this posteason:
G A P SOG S%
PP 2 0 2 5 40%
ES/SH 4 4 8 19 21%
Total 6 4 10 24 25%
In addition, one of his 3 misses on the power play clanged off a goalpost. If that shot would have found twine, a 60% shooting percentage on the man advantage would be hard to ignore. This would have also raised his PPG/G to 50%.
Finally, letís see the effect that Jokinen has had on the Carolina power play:
G PPTOI G/PPTOI*60 PPO (2:00) PP%
Jokinen on-ice 2 22.18 5.4 11.5 17.4%
Jokinen off-ice 4 74.65 3.2 38.5 10.4%
Total 6 96.83 3.7 50.0 12.0%
Again, if that shot off the goalpost had gone in, weíd be looking at a 26.0% power play while Jokinen is on the ice and a 14.0% power play with him off the ice. Even if the numbers are not as stark over a larger sample as in the table above, giving Jokinen the lionís share of power play time would seem like a simple way for Carolina to even the odds in this series. The Hurricanes have been so poor on the man advantage, you wonder what they would have to lose.
This is not to say that Jussi Jokinen is a complete slouch at even strength. This postseason, he has posted 4 Goals on 19 SOG for a 21% shooting percentage, and Carolinaís 2.28 Goals per 60 minutes while he is on the ice is not bad for a third line forward. His faceoff success rate is 52.1% (74 out of 142), 20th among forwards who have taken at least 50 draws. Finally, he has drawn 3 penalties while taking none.
By the way, Pittsburgh won Game 1 by a score of 3-2 to take a 1-0 lead in the series. You were bored of hearing about Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin all the time anyway, right?
Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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