I thought this debate had been fully hashed out already but apparently some people still don’t believe that the game score has an impact on shooting percentage (and shot quality). The following table shows the shooting percentages by game score over the past 3 seasons (2007-08 to 2009-10) during even strength situations where neither goalie is pulled for any reason (including delayed penalty situations).

Situation |
Shots |
Goals |
SH% |
Prob<= |
Prob> |

Down2+ | 23650 | 1852 | 7.83 | 0.3794 | 0.6206 |

Down1 | 30447 | 2356 | 7.74 | 0.1696 | 0.8304 |

Tied | 60753 | 4427 | 7.29 | 0.0000 | 1.0000 |

Up1 | 26842 | 2288 | 8.52 | 0.9999 | 0.0001 |

Up2+ | 19351 | 1779 | 9.19 | 1.0000 | 0.0000 |

Overall | 161043 | 12702 | 7.89 | 0.5024 | 0.4976 |

The Situation, Shots, Goals, and SH% columns are self explanatory. As you can see, shooting percentage is at its lowest in game tied situations, increases slightly for teams that are trailing and increases significantly for teams that are leading.

The second last column titled Prob<= show the probability (according to a binomial distribution) that that number of goals or fewer would be scored on that number of shots if the expected shooting percentage was 7.89%, the same as the overall 5v5 shooting percentage. The last column titled Prob> is simply 1-Prob<= and shows the probability of getting more than that number of goals on that number of shots. So, in down 2+ goal situations, there is a 37.94% chance of their being 1852 or fewer goals scored on 23650 shots which indicates that the down2+ shooting percentage isn’t different from the 5v5 mean at any reasonable confidence level. The same conclusion can be drawn about down1 situations. But, the shooting percentages in game tied, up1 and up2+ situations are statistically different at an extremely high confidence level. Essentially there is zero chance that game tied, up1, or up2+ situations have the same natural shooting percentages as game overall 5v5 situations. In no way can luck be the sole reason for these differences.

So, does this conclusively tell us that shot quality exists and varies according to game score? It probably does, but I can’t say it is conclusive as it could mean that teams that trail a lot have bad goaltending (the reason they are trailing) and this results in the team leading having an inflated shooting percentage. So, what if we looked at shots against a particular team. Let’s say, for example, against the NY Rangers. Here is what that looks like.

Situation |
Shots |
Goals |
SH% |
Prob<= |
Prob> |

Overall | 5159 | 386 | 7.48 | 0.5135 | 0.4865 |

Up1 | 843 | 73 | 8.66 | 0.9116 | 0.0884 |

Up2+ | 485 | 46 | 9.48 | 0.9571 | 0.0429 |

Leading | 1328 | 119 | 8.96 | 0.9800 | 0.0200 |

Tied | 2004 | 138 | 6.89 | 0.1658 | 0.8342 |

I chose the Rangers because they use predominantly one goalie and that goalie is generally speaking a quality goalie. As you can see, the confidence levels aren’t quite as strong as league wide mostly because of the smaller sample size but if we combine the up1 and up2+ categories we can say that shot quality against the Rangers when the opposing team is leading is statistically different than shooting percentage against the Rangers overall.

If you are interested in seeing what happens with a team that has had chronically bad goaltending, here is the same table for the Maple Leafs. We see the same sort of things.

Situation |
Shots |
Goals |
SH% |
Prob<= |
Prob> |

Overall | 5309 | 491 | 9.25 | 0.5120 | 0.4880 |

Up1 | 938 | 94 | 10.02 | 0.8098 | 0.1902 |

Up2+ | 906 | 100 | 11.04 | 0.9698 | 0.0302 |

Leading | 1844 | 194 | 10.52 | 0.9712 | 0.0288 |

Tied | 1985 | 149 | 7.51 | 0.0034 | 0.9966 |

So what have we learned.

- Shooting percentages vary according to game score.
- Those shooting percentage differences can’t be attributed to luck.
- Those shooting percentage differences can’t be attributed to goaltending.

That means, it must be the quality of the shots that varies across game scores. In short, we can conclude that when teams get down in a game they open up and take more chances offensively which in turn gives up higher quality shots against which makes perfect sense to me.

When we combine this with my previous post on the Washington Capitals shooting percentage last season, it is probably safe to assume that shot quality exists and we can’t safely assume that all shots can be treated equal in all situations.