Speaking in defense of a struggling teammate last spring, the Canadiens' Max Pacioretty called scoring goals in the NHL “the hardest job in the world.”
Of course, it's easier for some players than others. And Pacioretty should know. According to the stat masters at Behind The Net, the Montreal winger ranked as one of the NHL's most efficient snipers at five-on-five in 2013–14. Pacioretty scored a career-best 39 goals last season, fourth most in the league. But not all goals are created equal, so his numbers end up looking even better when put in context.
More is always better when it comes to lighting the lamp, but it's instructive to examine when goals are scored in order to determine how effective players are with the ice time they're given. Using a metric that measures how many goals a player scores at even strength per minutes played, Pacioretty scored an average of 1.61 per 60 minutes of ice time, second only to the Ducks' Corey Perry (1.66).
Many of the other names in the top 10 (see below) are ones that you'd expect: Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Phil Kessel. But Rocket Richard Trophy-winner Alex Ovechkin, barely cracked the list while other big scorers, including Joe Pavelski (third in the NHL with 41 goals), Sidney Crosby (seventh; 36) and Chris Kunitz (eighth; 35) did not make the cut at all because of how reliant their totals were on their power-play success. In their places are Jarome Iginla and Marian Hossa, who were among six players who scored 30 goals last season, not good enough to finish among the league's top 15 goal scorers.
And that's where context is revelatory. Ovechkin scored 27 of his 51 goals (53%) with the extra man. Iginla scored 26 of his goals at full strength (87%), which should make his new employers in Colorado happy. Hossa was a hair behind him, with 25 (86%). Ovi might be the bomb on the power play, but given this information we can say that both Iginla and Hossa were slightly more effective when the playing field was level.
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|1. Corey Perry, RW, Ducks
|2. Max Pacioretty, LW, Canadiens
|3. Jamie Benn, LW, Stars
|4. Marian Hossa, RW, Blackhawks
|5. Ryan Johansen, C, Blue Jackets
|6. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Ducks
|7. Jarome Iginla, RW, Bruins
|8. Tyler Seguin, C, Stars
|9. Phil Kessel, RW, Maple Leafs
|10. Alex Ovechkin, RW, Capitals
Although he didn't make the arbitrary 70-game cut-off, the Red Wings' Gustav Nyquist scored at the highest rate of any “regular,” coming in at 1.69 over 57 games.
A few other noteworthy names who didn't make the minimum games requirement:
Steven Stamkos, Lightning: 1.51 over 37 games
Tomas Hertl, Sharks: 1.50 over 30 games
Anders Lee, Islanders: 1.49 over 22 games
Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues: 1.12 over 64 games
In all, only 33 players averaged at least 1.00 goals over 60 minutes of even-strength ice time. That's well down from 44 during the last full season of 2011–12.