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Today we are blessed with a wonderful guest article by Michael Pina.
Less than five minutes into a recent showdown against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the normally polished Boston Bruins found themselves in one of hockey’s most unfavorable situations: being shorthanded in their defensive zone.
Despite having one of the most dominant defenses in all of hockey, it’s a circumstance the Bruins rarely concede so early. And even when they do, the result is usually a fierce standoff, ending with disciplined movement and tight rotations that create a seriously frustrated offense.
The Bruins are masters at limiting advantageous angles, forcing opponents to take low percentage shots. (This season they’ve allowed 42 goals—only the Chicago Blackhawks have allowed fewer.) But as amazing and consistent as they are, the Bruins quickly found during this game that they’d yet to find an appropriate answer for Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos, arguably hockey’s best player.
As Tampa Bay began to move the puck around the ice, looking for the best shot possible, Stamkos positioned himself on the left side of the rink, a few inches in front of the red goal line, almost directly parallel with the net. Not counting being behind the goalie, this is unquestionably the most difficult view point for a player to score a goal.
Stamkos—who last season led the league with 60 goals, becoming the seventh player in NHL history to tally that many before his 23rd birthday—responded by one-timing a pass through the tiniest sliver of space between Boston’s goalie and the left post. For so many reasons this shot was incredible, if not teetering on the border of incomprehensible. It was the type of shot geometry professors and opposing players can only shake their head at.
Stamkos leads the league in goals per game, but that’s a fairly obvious statement. What isn’t so obvious, and makes Stamkos’ remarkable season even more worthy of public conscious, is the historical ramifications regarding just how efficient he’s getting it all done..
Despite being the most skilled offensive player in hockey (sorry Sidney Crosby), according to Hockey-Reference.com Stamkos has attempted 73 shots this season, less than 10 other players. Yet he leads the league in goals scored by two (his 15 sits atop the list, just ahead of Pittsburgh Penguins left wing James Neal and New York Islanders center John Tavares).
Stamkos sports one of the 16 most efficient shooting percentages in the league right now, with roughly one out of every five shots rocketing past the goalie and into the net. He’s the Kevin Durant of hockey—in that the basketball superstar accounts for a majority of his team’s offense, yet still makes over 50% of his shots.
(Last week Stamkos was even more impressive, averaging 3.39 shots per game and 0.72 goals per game, which is a mark that’d stand as one of the most efficient scoring seasons in NHL history, only surpassed by the likes of Jari Kurri, Lanny McDonald, Luc Robitaille, Dennis Maruk, Michael Goulet, and Brendan Shanahan. All are in the Hall of Fame with the exclusion of Shanahan, who will be inducted as soon as he becomes eligible.)
Stamkos has beautiful touch. He doesn’t glide with the puck on his stick so much as he basically always skates into an area where the puck can find him, then makes the most of his opportunity once a teammate delivers a pass. He makes it looks so easy, with a slew of one-timers and deflections that are basically impossible for mere mortals to complete, and after watching clip after clip of his 75 combined goals from last year to present day, you get the sense he could shoot a tennis ball into a coke bottle.
Most great scorers are also great passers. That doesn’t necessarily translate to assists, so much as he’s great at finding a teammate, skating into open space, and then getting a pass back to set up a shot, and his wrists are a fatal weapon at all times when he’s across the enemy’s blue line.
What separates Stamkos from everyone else is the way he picks his spots. Not only is he a once-in-a-generation scoring talent, but so few of his touches are wasted. Only 23 years old, he’s already being weighed against some of the greatest players in hockey history. And where he goes from here is almost guaranteed to end up in the record books.