Had the NHL decided to go to the Pyeongchang Olympics in February, Joe Pavelski and Max Pacioretty likely would have been announced as members of the United States team during Monday’s Winter Classic. The NHL won’t go, and the two weren’t named, even though they should have been near locks.
Few players have scored more goals than the Sharks and Canadiens captains from the beginning of the 2013-14 until now. They’re first and third, respectively, among American goal-scorers, and third and eighth among all goal-scorers regardless of nationality.
This season, they’re in a tie for 20th...if you combine their goal totals, that is. Pavelski and Pacioretty have scored a combined 16 goals (eight each), nine fewer than the league leader Nikita Kucherov.
It hasn’t been a banner season for either of the Captains America, and both appear in need of the fictional Cap’s super-soldier serum. Pacioretty enters Tuesday night’s matchup between San Jose and Montreal on a 12-game goal-less skid, and he failed to find the back of the net in the month of December.
Pavelski, meanwhile, is on a considerably hotter streak than his Canadiens counterpart, at least on paper. He’s scored five points in his last five, and four goals in his last 13 games.
But when you take a closer look, it’s apparent that Pavelski’s also struggled lately.
He last scored a five-on-five goal on December 1. That was a day after Pacioretty scored his last goal.
Neither is playing much differently, let alone much worse, than they have in the past. Pavelski (13.16 five-on-five shot attempts per 60 minutes, according to Corsica Hockey) and Pacioretty (18.83) are shooting a tiny bit less this season, to the tune of just over one fewer shot attempt per hour at even strength compared to the last four seasons.
It’s even less of a difference when you look at shots, with Pavelski taking 0.07 fewer five-on-five shots every 60 minutes than he did over the last four seasons. Pacioretty, meanwhile, is taking 0.46 fewer shots.
Decimal places of difference can’t definitively describe such a drastic drop-off. Neither can age, even though both players a year older, nor injury and illness, which Pavelski and Pacioretty have respectively encountered.
The boring answer is that both players have been really unlucky, as the puck isn’t going in.
Their personal shooting percentages across all situations are among the lowest in their respective careers. If Pavelski and Pacioretty converted at a career-average clip, they’d have about 11 and 16, respectively.
That would still be concerning for Pavelski, but feels appropriate when you remember he turned 33 in July. Pacioretty, meanwhile, would be a top-20 goal-scorer.
Regression to the mean, more than anything, is what the American captains of the Sharks and Canadiens need in 2018. They won’t have the opportunity to wear the red, white, and blue in February, but just may be in Olympic-level form by then.