by PuckStopsHere on 12/08/10 at 01:44 PM ET
Ilya Kovalchuk has been one of the better goal scorers in the NHL thus far in his career; however he has not had the same success this year so far. He has played eight complete seasons before this one and averaged slightly over 42 goals per season. This season so far he has only scored five goals in 26 games as New Jersey has struggled. The Devils have been the lowest scoring team in the league with only 1.78 goals per game. This is due to several factors including injury to Zach Parise and bad luck, but many people have placed the blame on Ilya Kovalchuk’s failure to score and the effect on the Devils depth as a result of his contract.
A lot of Kovalchuk’s problems can be seen by looking at his shooting percentage over the course of his career.
Shooting percentage is a highly variable number. From season to season, the league’s shooting percentage leaders show very little consistency. A player with a high shooting percentage one year usually drops to a more average level in the next season. As an example, the players with the five highest shooting percentages this year (Andreas Nodl, Milan Lucic, David Jones, Claude Giroux and Saku Koivu) have an average shooting percentage this year of 21.8%. Last year, the same five players had an average shooting percentage of 14.1%, which is close to the league average.
This is not to say that having a high shooting percentage (good finishing ability) is not a skill. It is and there are a few players who consistently record higher than average shooting percentages, but for the most part it is not too consistent on a year after year basis. If a player has a significant increase in his goal scoring coupled with a significant increase in shooting percentage, it is likely an unsustainable piece of good luck. In time his shooting percentage will fall to normal levels and his goal scoring will slow down. For the most part, good goal scorers are people who get into a lot of good scoring chances. That is the skill that remains year after year and not finishing ability.
Ilya Kovalchuk has had a 14.5% shooting percentage throughout his career. It peaked at 18.4% in 2007/08 when he scored a career best 52 goals. Before this season his career worst was 12.0% in 2003/04. So far this season his shooting percentage is only 6.5%. Like unexpectantly high shooting percentages, unexpectantly low ones are also unsustainable. Had Kovalchuk been shooting at his career average rate, he would have 11 goals so far this season. That would be good enough for a tie for 24th place in the NHL. While New Jersey probably hoped for even better than when he was signed, it is a respectable number.
In New Jersey this season, Kovalchuk has had very little support for his offence from teammates. This is not a new situation for him. In Atlanta he rarely had much support either, although his team was higher scoring last year than it is this year.
So what is wrong with Ilya Kovalchuk? He has had a moderate drop in his ability to get into scoring opportunities. This is likely due to playing on an even lower scoring team than he was last year and being on a team that plays a stronger defensive game perhaps this is to be expected. The main problem is that he is not finishing his chances. This is a transient problem that will not last. Shooting percentages show very little year to year consistency. When a player has an abnormally high or low one, you can make a good guess that it won’t last. Thus Ilya Kovalchuk is likely going to start scoring at a higher rate in the near future.
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