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Auston Matthews in the offensive zone with a goalpost

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Ping!

Philadelphia Flyers v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

Unless you keep the sound off on Maple Leafs games, you know that Auston Matthews has been hitting the post a lot. It’s so weird! It must be his wrist. And if only those had gone in, he’d be scoring more goals. Maybe it’s the curve on his stick, or maybe it’s his stance. It could be his skates, you know. But it’s likely his wrist.

Or he just misses a lot like every other hockey player, and a Ping! is just a miss with sound effects. Evolving Hockey can help count this stuff up, and then we’ll know.

Auston Matthews has four years of hockey before this one, with an average five-on-five time on ice of over 1,000 minutes. That’s a good sized reference period. His average over those four years of shooting, having his shots blocked, missing on some, and ultimately getting a shot on goal, goes like this:

Career Average 2016-2020

  • Individual Corsi For/60: 17.68
  • Individual Fenwick For/60 (unblocked shots): 14.29
  • Individual Shots For/60: 10.22

From a very high pace of shooting — as mentioned in the article about Taylor Hall, Matthews is fifth in the NHL in recent years by this measure — some shots are blocked, and some are missed giving the final rate of shots on goal.

  • Block Rate: 3.4
  • Miss Rate: 4.07

This season, with all those pings, his numbers look like this:

2020-2021

  • iCF/60: 15.61
  • iFF/60: 13.12
  • iSF/60: 9.27

If all we do is compare the rate of shots on goal, it’s lower, but of course it is, it’s coming down the chain from a lower overall shot rate, the lowest since Matthews’ second year in the NHL. But it’s about one shot per game is all, not a lot lower. Comparing the differences is better:

  • Block Rate: 2.49
  • Miss Rate: 3.85

And another myth is busted. At least at five-on-five, Matthews isn’t missing on his shots more, in fact, he’s missing less. He’s losing fewer opportunities to score to shot blocking too, and that could be happenstance of the teams the Leafs face not blocking heavily or it could be that he’s shooting from locations where there are fewer block opportunities.

Now, for the power play, which is a completely different mode of playing to five-on-five with more shooting, more shot blocking and a static start to most shots.

Career Average 2016-2020

  • Individual Corsi For/60: 28.62
  • Individual Fenwick For/60 (unblocked shots): 22.32
  • Individual Shots For/60: 16.8
  • Block Rate: 6.2
  • Miss Rate: 5.52

And this season:

2020-2021

  • iCF/60: 34.76
  • iFF/60: 30.05
  • iSF/60: 21.08

The first thing to notice is the massive increase in shot rate. This change occurred for Matthews in 2018-2019, when his power play shooting shot through the roof. All his stats this season are right in line with the last two years. All but one.

  • Block Rate: 4.71
  • Miss Rate: 8.25

This is where Matthews is missing more. It’s his wrist! It might be, since we do know the Maple Leafs actually rearranged the power play for a while to remove his one-timer, which was too much strain. But it might also just be variance in the 102 minutes of power play time so far. There’s enough five-on-five minutes for Matthews’ results to look normal, but the power play time drops down into the small enough set for freaky stuff to appear that you can build a narrative on.

Has Matthews hit more posts this year? A miss by any other name would still not count as a goal, so what difference does it make? Making something out of a series of coincidences is exactly like driving down the 401 and marvelling at all the red cars because you’re counting the red cars.

In conclusion: Ping!