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What's Eating Michael Grabner: Fewer Shots?

Most Islanders fans are all too aware that last season's 34-goal scorer Michael Grabner is at just 15 goals this season. That's tied for third-most on the team, but still: People want and expect more.

Aside from any subjective observations about his "battle level" or speculation about an early-season groin injury slowing him down, two objective differences about Grabner this season are:

1) he's getting fewer shots on goal, and
2) he's scoring on fewer of those shots

Last season he logged three shots per game -- that average includes his slow start and his crazy second half -- and converted 14.9%. This year he's logged 2.14 shots per game and converted only 10.9%. Is there anything else going on?

Season GP TOI EV TOI PK TOI Shots EV Sh EV G Sh Dist. Miss
2010-11 76 15:04 12:38 1:31 228 176 26 29.2 ft. 44
2011-12 64 15:57 13:19 1:41 137 112 13 28 ft. 38

Most shooting data is from through Saturday. All figures at even-strength (EV) except overall Shots and TOI.

(I wouldn't read anything into the shot distance figures, which are similar. It's just fun to check, particularly with a breakaway threat like Grabner -- but it's based on NHL game data where an estimate for distance is used.)

So for the season overall, Grabner's ice time has increased and even his shorthanded time has increased (although again, it already ticked upward during last season's second half, so take that average into account). He's five short of last season's shorthanded goal total (a remarkable 6), but that somewhat luck-dependent figure doesn't explain all of the drop in goals. Nor does the slightly lower shooting percentage at even strength.

The shorthanded goals represent part of the drop-off in his goal production, but the drop-off from 26 to 13 even-strength goals -- or 26 to a 15+ goal pace if he played 76 games again -- is more glaring. That has some to do with a shooting percentage dip, but more to do with simply not getting as many shots on goal.

Last season at even strength, Grabner had 2.3 shots per game. This year that's down to 1.75. Even if his shooting percentage at even strength were up to last year's level, it would not have him on pace for 26 even strength goals again, to say nothing of the 34 total thanks to all those shorties. (Instead, he'd have 16 or 17 EV goals now instead of 13.)

Questions for Rampant Speculation

Generally, players do not suddenly increase nor decrease their shooting ability -- their percentage goes up or down in any individual year, but, overall there is a norm or "true talent" there they'll hover around for several years. So some questions to ponder about Grabner's productivity this season:

1) What part of last season's output was sustainable? (Note: Most likely not the shorties. According to hockey-reference data, of the 38 player seasons since 2000 where the player tallied five shorthanded goals or more, only five of them did it more than once -- including Brian Rolston, who did it two more times that decade*.)

2) Three shots per game is a lot of shots -- and during the hot second half, it was more like four shots per game. Can he ever return to that? If so, is the Islanders' approach holding him back? (Note that the Islanders team shots per game is actually up this year, not down.)

3) Does the breakaway jinx a part of this? Or just the vagaries of an off year? Or have teams adjusted to his speed and this is his new reality?

*That list of two-timers: Kris Draper, Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Richards, Martin St. Louis ... and Rolston, who had nine shorties alone in 2001-02 at age 28, then five each for Boston in 2002-03 and Minnesota in 2005-06.

It was quite fair and reasonable to expect last season's 34-goal outburst to be a blip or fluke -- a flash of an almost-30 goal scorer rather than someone on their way to 40. But did anyone expect only 20 (if he even gets that high) this season? Something to think about as Matt Moulson charges toward another 30-goal season, though with the help of John Tavares and P.A. Parenteau passing and powerplay time which Grabner does not receive.

Theories? Thoughts?

This Question Inspired by Reader Mail: Send Us Yours.

The Grabner topic is one that's come up on the site here plenty, but it's also one I get asked over email every now and then from lurkers and readers who aren't commenters on the site or at our Facebook page. So on that note, we're still doing our "Three Minute Island" segments on our part of SB Nation's YouTube channel -- and preparing to branch out to give these clips a little more variety. (Also: Will stop having the Lighthouse Dog hold the camera. Promise. Mostly.)

But one easy way to vary it up, which I hope readers and lurkers here have fun with, is submitting questions to be answered in "Reader Mail" clips. You can also submit them in comments, of course, but the point is to have fun with them (and of course to ridicule me and the site, if need be). Questions can be serious or absurd, brief or long-winded, and we'll experiment from there.

Here is the call for questions, with a light and less-detailed Grabner response, for our YouTube audience:

(That's the archway of darkness, by the way. Walls are padded for handling come-from-ahead losses.)