How Brian Gionta scored his goals in 2013 - Part 3 - Analysis

Bruce Bennett

After a torn bicep and some surgery to repair it, there were worries from fans and media that Gionta wouldn't be his former self from a goal scoring perspective. Let's look at his goals and see if that's the case.

Brian Gionta is a very underrated player. Often Habs fans complain about him due to age or a seeming lack of production, but the captain always finds a way to score goals. He paced for 24 over 82 games this season, which is below his Habs average, but he was no longer the only shooter on his line, so it's expected that his goalscoring would fall a little bit. The question is whether it will continue to fall next year as injuries and age continue to wear on him. Hopefully this analysis can bring some answers.

Goals by situation
Goals Goals on zone plays Goals off the rush Goals on individual efforts
14 9 5 2
Goals by shot type
Wrist Slap Snap One-timer Tip Backhand
6 1 2 0 5 0

As with everyone else so far, zone plays are the dominant form of scoring. The 2013 Montreal Canadiens were pretty excellent at controlling the puck in the offensive zone and peppering opponents with shots. 64.3% of Gionta's goals were scored on zone plays as opposed to goals off the rush.

Gionta had an odd year though, in that basically none of his regular shots went in. Of Gionta's 14 goals, 11 were right on the goal mouth, either tips or jamming home a loose puck. Of the 3 remaining goals, one was a tip in the slot, and one was an empty net goal.

What does this mean? Well it means that of all the shots that Gionta took from more than 5 feet out from the net, only one went it, the tying goal to make it 6-6 against Pittsburgh. On the face of it, I would say that we should be in for an increase in goal scoring from Gionta next season, as long as he continues to go to the net, but it's possible that the injuries to his biceps have significantly hampered his shot. That's speculation though, he still has a pretty heavy shot to my eye.

What's interesting though, is that just 2 of 14 goals were on individual efforts, and one of those was an empty netter. Gionta scored on individual efforts just 14.3% of the time last year, which is the lowest I've seen of any player I've studied so far, including 2011-12 Rene Bourque, who was just plain awful. As always this could be an outlier year, but it's worthwhile to note that Michael Ryder in Montreal this year also had a very low level of individual efforts, just 18.2% of his goals were individual efforts.

Since both Ryder and Gionta played on the same line for most of the season, it seems clear to me that they were very reliant on Tomas Plekanec for offense. Another feather in Plekanec's cap for sure, but what does it mean for Gionta? Is he no longer a driver of offense on his own? Let's look back at the last couple seasons to see what's changed.

2011-12 Goals by situation
Goals Goals on zone plays Goals off the rush Goals on individual efforts
8 6 2 3
2011-12 Goals by shot type
Wrist Slap Snap One-timer Tip Backhand
2 2 1 2 2 1

Last year's injury shortened campaign was a bitter one for Gionta. He wasn't healthy from the get-go, hampered by a lingering groin injury that slowed his stride, then came the infamous bicep tear. With just 8 goals to look at, it's tough to divine anything worthy of analysis, but what we can see is that unlike the rest of the team that was scoring primarily off the rush, Gionta was scoring mostly on zone plays. This could be due to his groin injury taking away his speed, generating fewer chances off the rush, or it could just be a small sample.

We can also see that Gionta was scoring on all kinds of shots, the kind of versatile goal scoring we saw from Brendan Gallagher this season.

Unlike this past season, Gionta scored 37.5% of his goals on individual efforts, even while hampered with injury. However in order to gain a better understanding, I think a full season breakdown will tell us more.

2010-11 Goals by situation
Goals Goals on zone plays Goals off the rush Goals on individual efforts
29 13 16 9
2010-11 Goals by shot type
Wrist Slap Snap One-timer Tip Backhand
7 3 5 7 11 3

Like 2011-12, Gionta scored on all shot types in 2010-11, showing some excellent versatility. It's very clear though, that Brian Gionta is at his best when he's going to the net to tip in pucks and put home rebounds. His elusiveness as a small player and low center of gravity seems to give him an advantage in that respect, as he can sneak by defenders easier than most players.

31% of Gionta's goals in 2010-11 were scored on individual efforts, meaning that 2013 is indeed a much different year for him, either an outlier or perhaps a sign of decline. That it comes after a major surgery that could be directly linked to the quality of his shot, lends credence to speculation that it's decline, but a shortened season and a similar breakdown for a linemate (who's also above 30...) makes me uncomfortable making any conclusions.

What does stick out though, is that Gionta scored 55.2% of his goals in 2010-11 off the rush, using his speed to break down defenders and finish plays. The team as a whole scored more on zone plays than off the rush in 2010-11 by a fairly wide margin, as you can see here, which means Gionta was going against the grain that year with how often he scored off the rush. This season he was on pace to score off the rush just over half as often as 2010-11, which could be a real sign of decline if there is one to be had.

But again, I have to stress that in a short season you can get weird samples. Gionta scoring just one goal on a shot from outside the crease by more than a couple feet could have just been bad luck, and his second torn bicep in as many seasons could be repaired in a way that doesn't impact his game. One thing is for sure though, Gionta's career with the Habs hinges heavily on the upcoming season. A great year could mean a new contract, an off year and I can't see him being brought back, even though he's the captain.

Brian Gionta is great at two things as a hockey player at the most basic level, driving possession, and scoring goals. If he can't score goals... Well, ask Scott Gomez.


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