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Why Brad Marchand isn’t scoring as much

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An in-depth analysis of Brad Marchand’s production

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Boston Bruins Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

One-timer data is thru the first 47 games, the rest is up-to-date and provided by Corsica and at 5v5. Some of the .GIFs used in this analysis are large, and may not show up in Apple News or Google AMP.

At one point in this season, it was a story that Brad Marchand wasn’t scoring enough, and there was some merit to it. Over the first quarter of the season, Brad Marchand struggled to score goals. That has since regressed. Sitting at 22, he will surely hit the 30 goal mark again this season, so why is there an article on why he is scoring less goals?

It would be boring if we talked about how Marchand might score a handful less goals this season. In fact, Marchand is scoring at about the same rate on the powerplay this season as last. However, Marchand is scoring goals at the lowest rate of his career at 5v5 this season. This article will hopefully bring to light some of the reasons that is happening.


The Big Picture

Before we get into a specific, interesting reason as to why Marchand isn’t scoring as much at 5v5, let’s look at the big picture for a second. Here is biggest reason:

Bad Luck.

This might not be a satisfying answer for many, but it’s an important one. Goals act as if random. It takes a long time for shooting and save percentages to work out a lot of the noise and randomness surrounding them. This is what makes hockey so fun. Any shot has a possibility of going in. Right now, Brad Marchand is converting at around where a league average shooter would be converting given the shots he has taken. Because Marchand is a phenomenal shooter, we expect him to convert at a higher rate, and we could see that happen to finish the season.

Outside of luck, there isn’t a massive deviation in the rate at which he is taking shots, nor the quality of those shots. Unfortunately, there exists a gap between the model (expected goals) and the results (goals) that can be explained by factors that are certainly quantifiable, but aren’t available to the public. So let’s go over one right now that might explain what’s going on here.

One-Timers

Ah, the one-time shot. It’s one of the most dangerous shots in hockey behind tips/deflections. Unfortunately, because the NHL doesn’t track these, research in this area is rather limited. Based on the eye test, fans know that this shot is dangerous because of the release time, speed of the shot, and pre-shot movement. While these shots are often less accurate than say a wrist shot, when they hit the target, they go in a lot.

Ryan Stimson pioneered research into this shot, and found that the rate at which a player takes a one-timer is repeatable, as well as the rate at which a player sets them up. And they are very predictive when it comes to goal scoring.

How does this relate to Marchand’s goal scoring? Let’s take a step back for a second. Last season, Brad Marchand recorded 1.03 primary assists per hour at 5v5, the highest rate of his career. There is still time left in the season, but he might post a higher rate this season. What is even more likely is that this will be the first season in Brad Marchand’s career that he produces more primary assists at 5v5 than goals.

We are seeing a clear switch in the role Brad Marchand is playing. Taking a look at the first lines rate of taking and setting up one-timers says it all.

Top Line One-Timers

Player One-Time Shots/60 Percentile One-Time Setups/60 Percentile
Player One-Time Shots/60 Percentile One-Time Setups/60 Percentile
Brad Marchand 0.37 21 4.20 99
Patrice Bergeron 2.52 98 1.30 50
David Pastrnak 2.80 99 1.55 62

For those who are unfamiliar with percentiles, it is the percentage of NHL players that the individual is better than in that metric. Brad Marchand sets up one-timers better than 99% of NHLers, while Pastrnak and Bergeron take one-timers more than 98% of NHLers.

On January 26, the Bruins first goal came off of a one-timer opportunity set up by Brad Marchand. He uses his feet to get the puck to his stick, and quickly accelerates to space. Recognizing blown coverage out of his peripheral vision, he finds Bergeron at the circle who makes the most of his opportunity.

The chance above gets blocked, but is a better illustration of what Marchand does so well to create so many one-timers. In case it isn’t clear, this play starts off of a faceoff win. It looks like there was a miscommunication on a set play. Whether or not that is true doesn’t matter.

When Marchand receives the puck, he certainly doesn’t have any dangerous passing options. Since the Canucks are in man-to-man coverage, Marchand knows that north-south movement will open up a hole. Instead of turning his body, he protects the puck by keeping it between him and the boards. Once he collapses the defense, he stops and heads back towards the point where the passing lane should, and is, open. Between his puck protection, quick feet, and hockey IQ, he makes an NHL defenseman look silly.

It’s worth pointing out that in my sample, the conversion rate on Marchand’s one-time setups is rather low, but this is a good approximation of Marchand’s playmaking abilities as a whole.

The problem is that Marchand hasn’t been set up with many one-timers by his teammates. 21st percentile is well below average. Perhaps taking away the highest quality shot is enough to bring Marchand down to an average shooter. While I don’t believe Marchand will finish the season with such a low rate of one-time shots, he will probably be below average, which will certainly hurt his shooting percentage.

Marchand and Bergeron’s tracked passing data visualized from 2014 thru 2018

Do you fix it or leave it?

Evidence points to a rise in Marchand’s playmaking which costs some of his goal scoring. One way to fix this would be to find a dynamic wing to play alongside Marchand and Bergeron. Pastrnak’s playmaking abilities are definitely above average, but it’s probably safe to categorize him as a shooter. If the Bruins were to acquire a winger at the deadline, they might look to add a playmaking winger instead of a scorer.

We are also seeing a solution play out right now with Pastrnak injured. Off-wing to off-wing passes are a lot harder to pull off. If Marchand is on his off-wing, chances are that Danton Heinen is on his strong side and will have an easier time delivering a one-time chance than Pastrnak would on his off-wing.

But “fixing” it comes at a cost. If Marchand begins to take more one-time shots, chances are that he will be setting up less one-time shots. It’s hard to be elite at one thing and very good at the opposite thing. But as long as Marchand is playing with Bergeron and Pastrnak, it’s probably fine the way it is.