Carolina Hurricanes: Can Jeff Skinner Maintain His Goal-Scoring Hot Streak?

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Carolina Hurricanes: Can Jeff Skinner Maintain His Goal-Scoring Hot Streak?
Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

The Carolina Hurricanes would be miles out of contention at the halfway point of the 2013-14 NHL season if not for the contributions of Jeff Skinner.

At the halfway mark of the season, Skinner ranks 11th in the league with 19 goals—despite having played in only 31 games to date. In goals per game, his 0.613 average spots him fourth.

It's a massive rebound campaign for the 21-year-old, who was the subject of a plethora of offseason trade rumors after suffering through concussion concerns and declining production since his Calder Trophy-winning rookie year.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Skinner led the league in scoring in December, his first fully healthy month in quite a while. He capped it off with two third-period goals in Carolina's rousing 5-4 overtime comeback win against Montreal to conclude 2013, then kicked off 2014 in explosive fashion with a hat trick versus Washington in another crucial overtime victory.

No. 53's incredible streak has lifted the Hurricanes' offense up from the basement of the league to a respectable 23rd. The unit has averaged a very healthy 3.05 goals per game since Nov. 24 and 3.33 over its last six contests.

But Skinner's scoring often comes in predictable streaks, and his defensive liabilities can be equally disturbing during offensive downturns.

Prior to the two explosive efforts sandwiching New Year's Day, the former seventh overall draft pick was a pathetic minus-11 over his last five appearances. He's scored in back-to-back games on four occasions this season, but also gone pointless in consecutive contests four other times.

Skinner's off-the-box-score production is worrisome, as well, as the question of his hot streak sustainability is examined.

Hot and cold streaks often stem from variance in chance conversion—how efficient a player is at turning his opportunities into goals—and, while such efficiency swings wildly from a month-to-month or even season-to-season basis, it generally reverts to a standard player mean over the very long run.

Consider Skinner's aforementioned efficiency (each set of data calculated on a per-game basis) in each of his four NHL seasons to date below:

Jeff Skinner's Per-Game Scoring Rates in Comparison
Season Goals Shots Shooting Percentage Shot Attempts Attempt Percentage
2010-11 0.378 2.622 14.42% N/A N/A
2011-12 0.313 3.281 9.52% N/A N/A
2012-13 0.310 3.786 8.18% 6.762 4.58%
2013-14 0.613 3.645 16.81% 6.667 9.09%

NHL.com, ExtraSkater.com

The goals-per-game rate of No. 53 has almost doubled in comparison to any of his three previous campaigns. While his shots-per-game rate has also increased significantly since 2010-11, it's actually down slightly from last spring.

These mathematics reveal the real reason for Skinner's torrid scoring touch: He's simply converting on a far greater percentage of his shot attempts and shots on goal.

A visual representation of the deviation in Skinner's career shooting percentage can be seen below. The black line represents an eight-game moving average; the red line demonstrates a highly indicative 20-game moving average.

Based on NHL.com statistics.

Alexander Steen, an NHL forward since the 2005-06 season, has already tied his career goal-scoring high through just 35 games with St. Louis in 2013-14.

Why? He's riding a 20.5 shooting percentage this season. His career average is a flat 10.0 percent. In time, those two numbers will move toward each other, and Steen will return to the typical second-line scoring pace he's historically followed.

Other examples of such variance abound well outside of Skinner and Steen, too.

Noah Graham/Getty Images
Los Angeles' Jeff Carter, a classic exemplar of shooting-percentage variance in the NHL.

Jeff Carter tallied 26 goals in 48 Kings games last year with a 19.5 shooting percentage; he's recorded just 13 in 32 games this year with an 11.1 shooting percentage this time around. His career average is 11.5 percent.

Tyler Ennis lit the lamp 15 times on just 82 shots on goal—18.3 percentin 48 games for Buffalo in 2011-12. He upped his shot total to 108 in 47 a year later, but his shooting percentage halved and he managed only 10 goals.

How many goals will Skinner eventually score in 2013-14?

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Carolina's own Jiri Tlusty finished in the top 10 in the NHL in goals last year, but his performance this year (only six goals and 10 points in 37 games) has prompted a storm of trade talk. However, his 19.7 shooting percentage a season ago is on the opposite end of the spectrum from his 9.5 percent rate this season, compared to his 13.2 career mark.

All of these victims of shooting percentage regression may soon be joined by a certain youngster making $5.725 million in Raleigh this season. 

It's certainly feasible that Skinner's accuracy and finishing abilities have improved over time. Nonetheless, the numbers also prove an undeniable upturn in good luck to be partially the cause, too.

Can No. 53 maintain his current scoring pace for the entire second half of the 2013-14 campaign? Possibly.

But the numbers have their doubts.

 

Mark Jones has been a Carolina Hurricanes featured columnist for Bleacher Report since 2009. Visit his profile to read more, or follow him on Twitter.

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