Dustin Byfuglien: Turning It Around

Ten games into the season, Dustin Byfuglien’s numbers were terrible. In those 10 contests, Byfuglien had one goal and three assists, along with a minus-5 rating. Those numbers, however seem to have turned a corner. In the last 10 games, Byfuglien has three goals, seven assists, and a respectable minus-1 rating. What happened?

To answer that question, let’s look at even-strength shot rates while Byfuglien’s been on the ice, divided into two segments: those first 10 games, and the last 10 games.

Segment GF GA Goal Diff. SF SA Shot Diff. On Ice SV% On Ice SH%
First 10 games 7 12 -5 103 88 +15 0.864 6.8
Last 10 games 7 9 -2 93 87 +6 0.897 7.5

First, a brief explanation of what the numbers (all of which come at even-strength) mean. ‘GF’ and ‘GA’ are goals for and goals against; ‘Goal Diff.’ is the difference between the two (note: this is not the same as plus/minus, which awards players a plus for a shorthanded goal and a minus for a shorthanded goal against, and also counts net empty situations). ‘SF’, ‘SA’, and ‘Shot Diff.’ are the same thing, except for shots. Finally, ‘On Ice SV%’ and ‘On Ice SH%’ are the save and shooting percentage of all players while Byfuglien is on the ice.

We see the shot data has actually gotten worse over the last 10 game segment, which shouldn’t be surprising – Byfuglien’s been playing the same role, but without Tobias Enstrom, his superb regular partner. Even so, the Jets with Byfuglien on the ice are still outshooting the opposition.

Interestingly, shots against have stayed the same while goals against have dropped by three. What has been the catalyst for the change? Simply put, save percentage – over the first 10 games, the save percentage was a very subpar 0.864 at even-strength. Since then, it has improved dramatically, to a still bad 0.897 SV%. It’s not that Byfuglien’s doing anything different – it’s just that fewer of the shots against are going in. This fits with what was said in the October 25th post on Byfuglien:

How is Byfuglien a minus-6 if the shot numbers are so good? It comes down to the percentages. With Byfuglien on the ice, the Jets have scored on about one in 20 shots. The opposition, on the other hand, is scoring three times for every 20 shots. This isn’t because Byfuglien’s opponents are taking shots that are three times as good as Byfuglien and his line-mates. Rather, it’s just a fluke result, something that will even out as he plays more games.

It’s worth noting that Byfuglien will, in all probability, always have a poor on-ice save percentage, simply because he sees a lot of the other team’s best players – and first-liners are much better shooters than fourth-liners. Even so, the present rate certainly leaves room for improvement, meaning that Byfuglien’s plus/minus could get better still.

It’s good to see, after some ugly early season results opened Byfuglien up to unwarranted questions about his suitability as a defenseman.

  • Alex Hemsky

    Dustin is a fascinating subject for advanced stats. A lot of fans only see his defensive mistakes and become guilty of confirmation bias as a result.

    I’ve been thinking about one of the things you say in the quote above. Specifically is Dustin’s low on ice SV% a product of how he plays or can it be dismissed as luck?

    Because of the style he plays he seems to give up a lot of high grade chances. Should his SV% reflect this? Yet if you look at last years numbers his SV% is very middle of the pack.

    I know a fair amount has been written on luck vs skill in player shooting % but has anything been done on player SV%?