Derek Stepan is currently struggling to score.
He hasn’t scored in his last 56 shots and his shooting percentage has plummeted from 10.6% (his career shooting percentage) to 7.6%. This is a perceived problem in a game like hockey where the goals are so rare. Because they happen so infrequently, goals become the main way we assess success. This success drives perception and may plunge a player’s confidence.
Using expected goal totals based on his shooting position and pre-shot movement, Stepan should have registered almost three goals during this scoring drought. Eight of his 45 shots have come from the high danger area and another seven are from the medium danger zone. Fortunately for Stepan, he has other aspects of his game that make him a productive player.
I isolated all the shots the Rangers have taken from the result of a slot-line feed and calculated the advantage gained from the resulting shot. I then added the resulting expected goal totals and rewarded the player who made the pass with a goal creation number. Stepan had the third highest total on the Rangers. If we use average results, the slot-line passes he made would have resulted in an expected six goals for the recipient of the feeds.
This skill goes a long way to keeping him productive even when his shots are not resulting in goals and we can see that in his on-ice results. Last season, Stepan struggled to maintain a positive expected goal differential and finished the season at .485. This season, that number has jumped to .532.
Offensively, his output has slightly declined from last season. He is still creating above average shots, but registering slightly less clear-sighted looks. While he still remains a strong slot-line passer, the number of shots from passes being taken while he is on the ice has been reduced and replaced with more rebound opportunities.His expected shooting percentage is slightly lower at 8.4% versus last season’s 9.5%. The majority of his improvement has occurred on the defensive end.
The thing that is truly driving his on-ice results the most is an improved defensive game. Last season, defensively, he was surrendering shots with an expected save percentage of .904. Only 81% of the shots Henrik Lundqvist faced were clear-sighted and his actual results were saved by his phenomenal goaltending.
This season, Stepan is surrendering fewer shots with pre-shot movement from less dangerous areas of the ice and the result has been an expected save percentage of .920. This season when Stepan is on the ice, he has increased his goaltender’s success rate by allowing them to see 85% of all even strength shots and has reduced the high danger area shots from 27% to 21%. Shots that originated from the low danger area has been increased from 49% to 59%. This has created a much easier environment for his goaltenders to succeed and one of the reasons why he benefits from a high on-ice save percentage, even though he plays high-quality opposition.
His goal drought will eventually come to an end and when it does, we can shift our focus to the next victim of random fortune.