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Anze Kopitar's Strange Decline

A season of struggle (in one important area) drags on for the Slovenian star.

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Anze Kopitar looked lost in mid-December. At least, that's what 13 points in his first 28 games of the season suggested:

What does that 1.16 5v5 Points/60 figure mean?

Essentially, in the first third of the season, LA's go-to guy was producing like Kyle Clifford (1.11 5v5 Points/60, 2010-14).

Of course, he's roared back since then, racking up 24 points in his last 16, capped off by re-taking the team lead in points (if he paces LA in scoring this season, he'll tie Marcel Dionne's club record of eight straight years on top) and his third All-Star Game selection. Kopitar's 5v5 production has normalized in this stretch:

He's benefited from a power play hot streak that won't lastnote that 2007-15's top power play threat, Nicklas Backstrom, owns a 7.0 Power Play Points/60.

But the nagging issue with Anze? 5v5 shot rate, which actually bottomed out in the playoffs:

Year GP 5v5 Shots/60
Kopitar 2014 Playoffs 26 4.22

Combining that and 2014-15 makes almost a full season (70 games) of data—and a nosedive from a previous career average of 7.44 5v5 Shots/60 to mid-April 2014 and on's 4.88.

So why is this of any concern? After all, he's still putting up points!

Such a dramatic collapse in shot generation might be early warning of a player in decline, suggesting an inability to get the shot he wants off.

Since 5v5 point production tends to falter at the age of 25, perhaps the same holds true for shot generation. That's not quite the case though. "[S]hot rate does seem to persist somewhat longer, with a broad peak centered at around age 26."

So the 27-year-old center's downturn is both unusual and alarmingly sharp. Courtesy of Eric T. (concentrate on the SOG/60 line):

This serious a struggle probably shouldn't be taking place until he's around his 30s. So on the verge of a massive extension, is Anze losing it?

Well, hold up. Watching Kopitar and considering his continued strength in other key analytics (Corsi Rel%, Zone Starts), I'm not ready to start composing the big man's career eulogy.

But such a drastic decline in shot generation is disturbing.

Other explanations?

Maybe Kopitar's shot attempts are missing or being blocked more than usual:

Year Missed Shots/60 Blocked Shots/60
Kopitar 2014 Playoffs- 1.56 2.13
Kopitar 2007-2014 Regular Season 3.04 2.62

Nope. Perhaps Anze is deferring too much to Marian Gaborik?

While Kopitar's shot rate slump kicked off last postseason, he shot at a fine pace during his regular season introduction to the three-time 40-goal sniper:

Year 5v5 Shots/60
Kopitar w/ Gaborik 3/6/14-4/12/14 7.46

So what's left? Gaborik's 2014-15 5v5 Shots/60 (7.21) has diminished along with Kopitar's, but it did flourish last "second season" (10.22). As a team, Los Angeles is shooting at about the same 5v5 Shots/60 rate (30.6 now, 31.2 last year).

Is Anze just holding back?

Kopitar is no stranger to complaints that he doesn't shoot enough. The Slovenian star didn't seem fazed by a 2013 Luc Robitaille intervention:

"It’s nice when you can talk to people like [Luc]. They just tell you their perspective and again, when I’m out on the ice I’m not thinking, ‘Shoot.’ I’m making the play that I think is the best at that particular moment. If it’s a shot, it’s a shot."

Here's an outsider's perspective of how that conversation went:

Clearly, Kopitar will never fire the puck at an Ovechkin-like clip. He is a playmaker at heart.

But are we witnessing Kopi's transition into another stage of his already-illustrious career? His recent 4.88 shot rate is in Joe Thornton-like pass-first territory.

Or is this all just a temporary blip?

All 2014-15 stats as of 1/21/15. Stats courtesy of Hockey AnalysisHockey ReferenceNHL.comPuckalyticsSporting Charts, and War on Ice.