Rick Nash’s hot start and tempering expectations

San Jose Sharks v New York Rangers

Rick Nash is off to a hot goal-scoring streak to start the 2014-15 season, scoring 7 goals in 6 games, tops in the NHL. Nash, who was the subject of much criticism over the off-season for “not showing up” in the playoffs despite strong possession numbers, is in for a bit of a wake up call, which may be coming sooner than later. Ranger fans should be expecting a goal-scoring slump from the winger, but it’s ok.

Nash has had strong possession numbers over the course of his first two seasons with the Rangers. His CF% is 54.8 over that span. This season, in even strength situations, Nash’s CF% and FF% are last on the team (44.9 and 43.1 respectively). His saving grace thus far has been an insanely high and unsustainable SH% of 44.4%, which is going to drop dramatically over the course of the season. For a player who led the NHL in shots last postseason while only scoring 3 goals, he was bound to find a string of good fortune and he seems to have found it early on this year.

Keep in mind that these are small sample sizes though so while his SH% is most assuredly going to regress, so will his CF% and FF%. These are far too low for a player of Nash’s caliber. I, like many others, have been thrilled to see Nash get off to his hot goal start, but when we dig a little deeper we can see that his game is not necessarily where we would all want it to be in terms of driving possession for the team. Keep a look out for Nash’s shifts and try to watch how often the Rangers have the puck when he’s on the ice. His possession numbers could start to improve as soon as tonight, while his scoring may dip, but the bottom line is that we expect this to happen and it’s ok.

Side notes:

  • The Rangers as a team have had relatively strong possession numbers to start the season given the injuries to Derek Stepan and Dan Boyle. They’re ranked 13th in the league in FF% at 52.18%. This should go up when Stepan and Boyle return.
  • Mats Zuccarello’s scoring should pick up soon. His FF% of 52.81 is going to start translating into points. He won’t continue shooting 0%. The same goes for Ryan McDonagh.
  • As always, be careful with early season possession numbers. This is a very small sample size to make accurate assessments, but we can use them to find players/teams that will regress to the mean.

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  • I don’t like advanced stats. A lot of goals happen on the rush. Bang bang plays. End to end. There are a fair share that are scored from long sustained pressure, but I’d be willing to say that possession numbers have less to do with goals scored than most would be inclined to think. Possession numbers have more to do with a good defense IMO. Not allowing the other team to have the puck. Cycling and offensive pressure is surely a good sign, but the only stats that really matter are the ones on the score board and box score sheet at the end of the game. That, and Nash’s fitness level. He’s in great shape, and more focused because of it. Maybe he was getting shots off, but because he was tired there was less force and less accuracy behind the shot…. goalie makes the save.

    His shot percentage will go down, but don’t be surprised if he puts up career totals… especially because he has done this without the aid of his center, Stepan….

  • Even when the Ranger dominate in possession time the Devils seems to have the Rangers’ number. Taking advantage of their scoring opportunities and finding a way to beat a sometimes very stingy Cory Schneider will be key for New York. Rick Nash will be counted on to continue his scoring streak in this one.

    • Of course. No one is saying that you can dominate puck possession without scoring. Just saying that dominating puck possession directly correlates to wins, as long as you score.

  • This is where a coach says just win your shift. Sure Nash is a real force right now, but that will end. Can CK then have 10 games where he is a force? I am sure he can be. Sometimes we look to stats for answers, when the real answer lies within the heart and determination of a player.

    • No one says to look for stats to answers. What we can do is evaluate what we have seen so far and expect certain slumps or hot streaks.

      The best example is Hank last year. He had a horrible start to the year, well below his career averages. We knew he would have a hot streak to get back to his career numbers, and he was almost unbeatable at the end of the year.

  • Dave, how does a Corsi work when a line gets 3 shots in a span of say 5 seconds on rebound taps with this line having had 0 posession then a steal and then the shots. Meanwhile the entire shift up to that point was in their own zone but there was no shot attempts by the opposition?

    • If a team cycles for a shift with no shot attempts or chances, was there really a threat?

      I’ll take three rebound chances over no shot attempts.

      • Well, isn’t that also dependant on the context? If that shift wears down the opponent, so the following shift can get good opportunities, or if they draw a penalty…

        • its not about an individual shift or play its about evaluating trends and consistencies within a players game. Its a predictor of trends not who’s gonna score tonight.

          Tanner Glass had bad possession numbers coming into this season so one would expect turnovers in the neutral zone poor dump ins bad clears but not all the time just at a higher rate than someone else.

          And to your point good teams elevate everyone’s numbers by wearing down opponents and vice versa

          • Thanks for the reply guys, I agree, just wanted to mention as others before, that things always need to be seen in their context.

            Andah cool stuff you guys are working with!

  • Is there a stat on time in the 3 zones? I think that stat combined with shot attempts would be more accurate than shots for/against and shot attempts. But if you had say a 1 minute shift…23 seconds in the O zone, 10 seconds in the D zone and 27 in the neutral with 1 shot for against 0 shots for…puck in total control of the team for 38 seconds…that would be a clear indication that the team had possession the vast majority of this shift….no?

    but say same shift possession but the shots are 1 for and 1 attempt but the attempt led to a breakaway goal for the opposition…that would reflect also on hockey happens…

  • I think a lot of people are missing the point: Shot attempt data is collected over all games, not just single events. Sure, it measures a breakaway in the same breath as a shot from the point, and if you compare just those two chances it may look silly. But the point is large sample sizes, which diminishes the single events and puts it all together into something we can evaluate as a whole.

    Statistics is the analysis of data over a large period of time, not one event.

  • I may misunderstand the meaning of “regress to the mean.”

    My understanding is that we can expect players to typically regress in the direction of their career averages AFTER (but not including) a slump/hot streak. So Nash’s average over the past few seasons is around 10.5%, and he’s shooting around 30% now. We can expect a regression to around 11% from here forward, but not necessarily including the recent few games.

    If Nash can prolong his 20+% streak and regress towards his recent average close to 11%, we might be able to expect another 15ish% season from him, which would be nice.

    • Regression can be positive or negative. I know regression sounds like someone coming down from a hot streak, but can also mean someone coming up from a cold streak.

      Progression to the mean I guess, in the literal meaning, would make more sense.

  • The ancients created idols and gods in an attempt to explain the inexplicable and to try to exert some degree of control on the many forces that governed their lives.

    Baseball lends itself to a certain devotion to stats and metrics. It really is a series of specific, individual events and one-on-one confrontations identifiable in space and time. It can literally be broken down into its component parts.

    Hockey? Not so much. Unlike, baseball’s individual nature, hockey is in every sense a team sport played by athletes moving very quickly. It’s hard enough to even identify the components that comprise the sport, much less actually quantify them in an accurate, meaningful way.

    And those are just the tangible aspects of the sport! Unlike baseball, which is one tangible event after another, a hockey game is not limited to events we can see and measure but includes a multitude of intangibles that are by definition unmeasurable.

    For just one example – I can’t remember the year but it was a playoff game against NJ (I’m thinking Game 2, 1997). NJ had won Game 1. On the first shift of Game 2, Messier just leveled Scott Stevens behind the net. You could feel the air go out of NJ and we won that game and the next three to take the series. What impact did that one event have one the game and series? We’ll never know.

    Stats and metrics will of course increase our understanding of the game and help identify and measure the tangibles that contribute to success and to failure. But let’s make sure not to pray to the false gods of stats and metrics that can never measure all of the variables that decide hockey games.

    • No one has ever said that stats and the eye test are mutually exclusive. The best people use both to evaluate, not one or the other.

  • I’ve been watching hockey for over 45 years, I don’t need geeky stats to tell me what I see. I don’t see the need for them.

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