Watching Mark Scheifele this post-season, it’s easy to see that he’s red hot. The Winnipeg Jets’ top centre is leading the playoffs in goal scoring with 14 goals in just 15 games, four more than anyone else.
Scheifele has been one of the NHL’s better goal scorers for the last three seasons; with his 0.4 goals per game over that time ranking 16th best among all players to appear in 150 or more games since 2015, and he has been a high percentage shooter that whole time, scoring on 17.5 per cent of his shots on goal.
That shooting percentage places him third in the NHL behind only Paul Byron and teammate Patrik Laine in goal-scoring efficiency, so it’s not necessarily surprising to see Scheifele lead the playoffs in goals, but the jump from 17.5 per cent to 35.9 per cent shooting percentage is pretty extreme.
There are factors that influence shooting percentage over short periods of time that could explain that bump, and it’s certainly not a coincidence that Scheifele has the second-most scoring chances on net in the playoffs after Alex Ovechkin with 30, and the third-most pass receptions in the slot after T.J. Oshie and Patrice Bergeron with 45.
Scheifele’s teammates have been a big factor in getting him quality looks on a consistent basis, especially Blake Wheeler, but receiving a pass in the slot doesn’t necessarily mean you get a scoring chance. So what could influence his spike in shooting percentage?
To figure that out, we have to look at how often Scheifele shoots from dangerous areas compared to how often he shoots from the perimeter, how often he gets those shots on net, how often his shots are preceded by a pass, and how often his shots are deflections.
These are all big factors in shooting percentage swings.
We can compare his playoff numbers to his regular season to see how much has actually changed.
Shockingly, most of the signifiers of shot quality lean towards Scheifele getting higher quality opportunities in the regular season than he has in the playoffs, where his shooting percentage is over double that of his three-year average in the regular season, and almost double his 2017-18 shooting percentage.
Scheifele is getting more of his scoring chances on net in the playoffs, and while it isn’t shown in the graph, an extra 2.5 per cent of his perimeter shots are missing the net, that isn’t nearly enough to say that scoring on more than one in every three shots is entirely ‘earned’.
One theory that Elliotte Friedman brought up recently was that Scheifele is getting his shots off quicker, which would certainly be something that would allow him to beat goaltenders more often.
Unfortunately, I can’t access that exact piece of information with the data I have on hand, but I can approximate it in a way. We can take Scheifele’s offensive zone possession time in the regular season and playoffs, and divide them by the total number of possessions he has had in each season, to come up with an average amount of time Scheifele has the puck on his stick per offensive zone possession.
Doing this, we come up with an average of 0.87 seconds per possession in the regular season, and 0.78 seconds per possession in the playoffs. Elliotte was correct that Scheifele is moving the puck quicker, but the difference on average is .092 seconds per possession, which should be almost imperceptible.
Hockey is an extremely fast game, and maybe that near-one-tenth of a second shaved off has helped Scheifele score at will, but more likely this is simply a hot run for a player who is already great, and just because there’s no real change in play behind it doesn’t make it any less magical for the Jets.