Evander Kane: Where the goals are coming from

Evander Kane pocketed another pair of goals Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators to give him 12 goals on the year. He now leads the Winnipeg Jets in points as well as goals. A slow start didn’t deter the former Vancouver Giant, who has popped off with seven goals in his last seven after scoring just five in his first 16.

So what changed? What was the major difference?

Well, seven games ago before a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, coach Claude Noel moved Kane onto a line with Bryan Little. Kane has not only exploded in goals, but number of shots taken as well. Blake Wheeler and Alexander Burmistrov have each spent time as the second winger on this line, but Little and Kane appears to be working.

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However, there’s also a little more at play. Evander Kane was playing terrific hockey in the early part of the season but wasn’t getting rewarded. Let’s take a look at some of his fancy stats:

6 9 104 78 5.5% 89.7% 95.1%

This is a picture of what happened when Evander Kane was on the ice. If you add up the number of goals for and saved shots for, you can see that, at even strength, the Jets outshot their opposition 110-87 in the first 16 games of the season. The clear problem was that Kane was unlucky: his PDO, which is the addition of shooting and save percentages, was far below 100.

Had you asked me what was going to happen to Kane’s numbers, I would have said that they’d trend upwards.

Now, let’s see his individual numbers in the first sixteen games:

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Goals Shots Sh% Shots/G
5 53 9.4% 3.12

Despite creating opportunities for himself, Kane was shooting slightly below 10%, which is what a scoring winger should expect to shoot in the NHL. (It is now his career average in shooting percentage). Not much, mind you, but enough to make us think that Kane was going to trend upwards, not downwards.

Of course, hindsight is 50/50. But let’s look at his fancy numbers, including the last seven games:

First 16 6 9 104 78 5.5% 89.7% 95.1%
Last 7 10 3 62 42 13.9% 93.3% 107.2%

When Kane is on the ice, the Jets are outshooting the opposition 72-45 in the last seven games, which is a much better rate than his first 16. Evidently, whatever’s working with Little is definitely working, but how much of it had to do with inevitable percentage correction? He is seeing better goaltending behind him, but the team’s shooting has been much better.

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How has he done individually in the last seven?

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  Goals Shots Sh% Shots/G
First 16 5 53 9.4% 3.12
Last 7 7 36 19.4% 6.00

Kane’s shooting percentage has gone way higher than his career average in the last seven. I guess it doesn’t take a spreadsheet to realize that he wasn’t going to be a goal-a-game player all the way forward, but his shots per game ratio is very impressive and it looks like Kane has a few more opportunities to let the puck go when he’s with Little as opposed to Nikolai Antropov.

That said, the way that the first line is producing in the last seven, with a PDO of 107.2%, is simply impossible to continue. Is there something to be said about his new linemates not only improving Kane’s shot total, but also the quality of those shots? From a traditional standpoint, certainly, however I think that the numbers are clear that Kane can’t keep up this pace and his shooting percentage will normalize soon.

As for actual team performance, are they a better team, objectively, since the Tampa Bay game? The stats say no. Here’s how both Kane and the team have done Fenwick-wise with the score tied. The percentage indicates the number of shots and missed shots directed at the opponent’s net over the total number of shots and missed shots. It’s best calculated with the score tied or close since teams play differently when they’re nursing a lead:

  Kane Fen% Team Fen%
First 16 49.5% 50.3%
Last 7 50.0% 45.6%

Evander Kane is doing better by this metric, but only slightly, meaning that he’s probably taking a higher percentage of the overall shots while he’s on the ice. The team itself has been worse off. Part of this can be attributed to some regression from the GST line, and part of it can be attributed to the fact that Alexander Burmistrov has not played well by any standard, advanced or traditional, since the Tampa Bay game.

(h/t to the Vic Ferrari’s wonderful timeonice.com widgets for the information used in this post)