The pants pissing that’s been going on to this point in the season amongst Oilers fans has been thoroughly entertaining I’ve actually become more optimistic than I was to start the season – if MacT can find a way to stem the hemmorhaging on the bottom two lines and if the kids are really not going to get brutally outshot, he might have himself a playoff contender a year earlier than I figured he would. I listened a bit to the Gregor’s show yesterday (mark me down as having preferred Stauffer) and one of the hot topics was the inability of guys like Shawn Horcoff, Erik Cole, Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner and Dustin Penner to score. The volume of the “Fire MacT” crowd has been turned way up as well.
Matheson touched on this the other day as well, pointing out the failures of those guys to score at ES. I’m having a hard time getting worked up about this. Here’s a summary of the ES shooting and scoring for Horcoff, Cole, Hemsky, Gagner and Penner so far this year, as well as their numbers for 2003-08:
To me, the shooting percentage, that’s just something that comes and goes. While it’s certainly frustrating that those guys aren’t scoring goals and it’s a topic to fill radio time with, the results that these guys have obtained this year aren’t out of line with the streakiness that they’ve demonstrated to date. The really interesting thing to me is that all of those guys are taking shots at well above their career rates. While the “it’s early” caveat obviously applies to that as well, I get less concerned about guys who aren’t scoring when they’re hitting the ball hard. I haven’t seen a ton of Oilers games so far this year, what with going to the ALCS and WS but, from what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard on the radio (even once you apply a discount for the Phillips effect), these guys have had chances – they’re not just generating a ton of shots from the outside.
I distinctly remember Horcoff hitting a crossbar in the Chicago game, I vaguely recall Hemsky hitting post somewhere and Cole had a breakaway the other night. I’m not particularly well positioned to argue that they’re getting their chances but my sense of it all is that they are. Given that they’re all getting a lot of shots for them, it seems to me that if you want to make the argument that there’s something fundamentally wrong with them other than needing a little affection from the Hockey Gods, you’ve got an uphill climb.
As you can see from the table above Horcoff is 1/26 in terms of ES shooting this year. Hemsky and Cole are at 0/21 in ES shooting and Gagner is at 0/19. I’ve got the data on their ES shots from 2003-08. Using Horcoff as an example, he has taken 435 ES shots during that time (empty netters excluded). You can view that as 410 26 shot sets, i.e. 1-26, 2-27 etc. If you look at it that way, what he’s going through, while unusual, isn’t unprecedented – for his career, he’s been 1/26 or 0/26 on his most recent 26 ES shots about 16.8% of the time. Cole’s been 0/21 7% of the time. Hemsky’s been 0/21 9.9% of the time.
All things considered, this doesn’t seem like it’s something getting worked up about. More broadly, it’s kind of funny – you hear about how sports is good for kids because it’s like life and teaches them that hard work is rewarded and all that. If the world was a more cynical place, maybe we’d hear that sports are good because they you that much of life is out of your control – you can work hard and do the right thing but there’s still an awful lot of everything left to fate. Even worse, you can expect to be blamed, even if you work hard and do the right thing and the results aren’t there.
The most that you can hope for is that when luck smiles on you and you put in 8 of your last 26, you’re coming off a two point night in which you added the shootout winner, rather than people calling it a fluke, they write stories praising you for the time that you spent at a Mexican stick factory in the offseason. You won’t deserve the praise but, hell, maybe it’ll make the unwarranted criticism easier to take.
(By the way: the Mexican stick factory story is dated December 18, 2007. Since that date, Horcoff has 5 ES goals on 65 ES shots, for a 7.7% ES shooting percentage, which is a poor shooting percentage for a forward and probably particularly one who plays with Hemsky. I’d like to see the local media aggressively pursuing this angle. If the Mexican stick factory visit “fixed” Horcoff, what’s wrong now? You simply CANNOT let these issues slide.)