An interesting article today from L.A. Times reporter Helene Elliott on Dustin Brown and his perceived early season struggles.
Some quotes from the article and reaction from yours truly:
[Brown’s] hits-per-game average is dramatically down, a key statistic for a player whose physicality helped create and sustain the Kings’ identity.
Brown has been credited with 25 hits in 12 games, ranking him 63rd in the NHL through Monday’s games. His average is 2.08. Compare that to last season, when he was credited with 156 hits in 46 games (3.39 per game) and ranked eighth in the NHL, and to 2011-12, when he was credited with 293 hits in 82 games (3.57 per game) and ranked second in the league.
Stats don’t always tell the full story, but Brown's hit total means something to Coach Darryl Sutter.
“Yeah, it does, because he’s got to play a certain way to be effective and that’s important,” Sutter said
I disagree on a couple points. The first problem I have is with the notion that hits are a “key statistic” and one that has helped “sustain the Kings’ identity”. The Kings have been one of the more successful franchises in recent years, having won the Stanley Cup two years ago and having made it to the Western Conference Finals last season. The Kings were able to achieve this success by possessing the puck at insanely high rates. Brown has been a key component in the Kings puck possession game as he is among the team leaders in puck possession numbers over these last few years.
Additionally, hits in and of themselves are a nearly useless and unreliable metric. They do not correlate to winning and are also counted so inconsistently by official NHL scorekeepers that they should be basically ignored completely.
Elliott is right to point out that stats don't always tell the whole story, but this all makes Sutter's quote at the end of the above a little alarming.
Brown’s response to this issue was interesting:
“As a team, we’re much more puck possession now,” he said. “So when you have the puck, it’s a lot harder to hit. There’s games I think when I’m more physical, it’s because we’re chasing the puck more.”
Nice to know that Dustin Brown is a loyal Jewels from the Crown reader. We’ll have to get him a hat or something.
Brown is right, the Kings have had the puck so often when Brown has been on the ice that it’s been tough for him to accumulate hits. Thus, as Sheldon Keefe, head coach of the Soo Greyhounds, put it in a tweet last year:
Hard to hit when you have the puck all the time. “@RobertJFTC: Chicago is last in the NHL in hits. Their record is 15-0-3.”— Sheldon Keefe (@SheldonKeefe) February 25, 2013
Additionally, all of that possession has allowed Dustin Brown to accumulate a league leading 9 penalties drawn. This is an underrated skill and one that Dustin Brown has been consistently good at over the years.
Goal Production Down, Should we be Concerned?
As Elliott points out in the article, Brown’s goal production is down from a year ago. He only has 2 goals in 12 games. There is a ton of variance involved in a 12 game sample with relation to goal scoring, so that really in and of itself isn’t alarming. Yet, behind the lack of goal production, there is a slight cause for concern related to one key area of Dustin Brown’s game. Shots.
In recent years, Dustin Brown has consistently been one of the team’s leaders in producing shots on goal. Last year, he was able to produce 9.6 shots per 60 minutes of even strength ice time (behind only Jeff Carter). This season that number is has fallen to 7.9 (4th on the team and behind the notoriously shy shooter known as Anze Kopitar).
1.7 shots per 60 would be a difference of 27 shots over the course of the year. Based on Brown’s career average shooting percentage at even strength, that suppressed shooting rate will cost him 2 even strength goals this season.
Additionally, Brown’s suppressed goal production so far has been caused by a 6.7 shooting percentage. Shooting percentage varies over small samples (12 games is a very small sample). Brown’s career norm has been 10.4% and it's reasonable to expect that his numbers will climb back toward his career average.
But that begs the question, just how suppressed is Dustin Brown’s goal total been 12 games into the season? Over the course of his career, Dustin Brown has averaged 2.7 shots per game. Thus, over 12 games played he should have amassed about 32 shots (he has amassed 30 so far). Based on his career 10.4 shooting percentage, that translates to about 3 goals.
So he has scored 2 goals this season instead of the 3 he should have scored based on his career averages. I don’t think we need to start ringing any alarm bells just yet.