Sharks face Penguins in a battle of normalized shooting percentages

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7:30 PST
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8-3-2, 18 points 6-4-0, 12 points
1st in Eastern Conference 8th in Western Conference

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1.9%. Any guesses on which Penguin posted this shooting percentage over their final twenty game stretch last season?

Not Orpik, not Talbot. That's James Neal's shooting percentage after he was traded with Matt Niskanen from the Stars for Alex Goligoski.

Yuck.

Many doubted Neal's successful first few seasons in the league, and his long term scoring potential in the NHL, based on those twenty games when he put just one goal in the back of the net in a much more critical hockey market. He was brought over in part to help with the absence of Crosby, and by almost all metrics was a complete and utter dissapointment.

That's the thing about sample size, though. A twenty game stretch is a poor indicator of expected career play, especially for a guy who has scored 27 and 24 goals in full seasons prior to last. Case in point, Neal has nine goals in just thirteen games this year, scoring on a whopping 17.3% of his shots. Will he continue at this clip all year? No, and that's kind of the point of the argument. You can't assume anything with confidence based on limited stretches of play, good or bad. Still, the 17.3% is a hell of a lot closer to his career 13.5%-ish number. 

This discussion about sample size when it comes to shooting percentage isn't just interesting in the context of tonight's game, but also because the Sharks have their own roller coaster shooter. Joe Pavelski.

Pavelski's goal scoring was down last year; even though he ripped 25% more shots than he did the season prior, he scored five goals less. A twenty goal season is a good one for Pavelski, but after back to back 25 goal seasons, the expectation is for growth, or at least sustained statistical performance at this stage of his career.

Pavelski shot just 7.1% last season, most of that brought down by a 5.6% shooting percentage pre-All Star break. This year, he's on a tear, putting a ridiculous 22.3% of shot pucks past the goaltender. It's led him to eight early goals in just ten games... or put him on pace for a 66 goal year. You know, just 16 more goals than the league leader last season.

Again, sample size. Although I'd love for Pavelski to replace Corey Perry's name on the Rocket Richard Trophy, that's very unlikely to happen. Instead, Pavelski's shooting percentage, like Neal's, will probably regress back to close to his career average. If Pavelski shoots at 9.8% for the rest of the year and continues at this shot pace (3.5 per game), he'll reach about 28 goals. That's fine for me.

What we should take big picture from all this is simple. It's unwise to judge any performance, team or player, on a ten game sample. Pavelski has been great, but he'll probably cool down a bit. Marleau will heat up. And the Sharks, barring a serious injury, will start putting together a record that reflects the skill on the ice.

I'll take the last one sooner than later.

Prediciton: Sharks win 8-7. Pavelski scores 8 goals on 9 shots while Neal scores 7 times on 5.

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