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Posted at 1:29 PM ET, 12/ 4/2010

Statistical analysis: Which Alex is more talented at scoring goals?

By Neil Greenberg
Statistical analysis

There is no debate that both Alex Ovechkin (named the best player by his peers three out of his five full seasons in the league, including the last two) and Alexander Semin (on pace for a career-high 55 goals this season) are two of the NHL's most talented players, but which one is more talented at scoring goals?

Goal scoring is influenced by luck -- and by "luck," I mean random chance, like when a puck hits the crossbar and makes its way into the twine, or when a deflection skips (or does not skip) past the goalie's blocker. Certainly there is skill involved, but how much more skill one Alex has over the other is what we will try and answer.

To determine how much skill goes into each Alex's end-of-year goal totals I used a Monte Carlo (random) simulation to estimate the random variance, which is just a fancy way of saying, "how close are these numbers to the average?" The larger the variance, the more the results spread away from the average. In this model, all shots on goal have the same chance of lighting the lamp, regardless of who the goalie is or which teams are playing. Then, I took a look at how these purely random goal totals differ from the actual goal totals for both Ovechkin and Semin.

Each Alex was given the same number of shots per game as he had in the actual NHL seasons he played, but the chances at a goal were based on the 9 percent average shooting percentage of the past three years. After simulating 100,000 careers for each, I looked at how the randomly-generated goal totals were distributed (calculated as standard deviation) and compared them to their real-life counterparts.

  StdDev (random) StdDev (actual) % Luck % Skill
Ovechkin 0.65 0.80 66% 34%
Semin 0.48 0.68 49% 51%
To find out the percentage attributed to random chance divide StdDev(random)2 / StDdev(actual)2

Ovechkin's simulation indicates that up to two thirds (66 percent) of his goals scored could be a function of luck. Semin's simulation, on the other hand, indicates his goals scored are almost a 50/50 split of luck and skill.

This would explain Ovechkin's frustration and Semin's ability to terrorize goalies almost at will.

Ovechkin, who may rely on chance as a majority of his ability to score goals, is less fortunate on fewer shots. His shooting percentage of 8.5 percent this season is almost 50 percent lower than his career average, and he is taking one fewer shot per game than he has historically - miring him in a nine-game goal-scoring drought on his way to a career low 30-goal season.

Semin, meanwhile, is seeing his superior talent get luckier than normal by shooting 19 percent (vs. 14 percent historically) in a career year when he could score 50 or more goals, proving it is better to be lucky and good.

Neil Greenberg also writes for Russian Machine Never Breaks. You can follow him on Twitter here.

By Neil Greenberg  | December 4, 2010; 1:29 PM ET
Categories:  Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Statistical analysis  
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I take issue with Neil's assertion in the 2nd paragraph that a goal resulting from hitting the crossbar is "random chance." That is totally untrue. Goal scorers are AIMING for the corners and the sides. They are trying to get as close to the pipe as possible while still sneaking the puck in. A puck that bangs off the pipe and goes in is the result of skill. A puck that bangs off and goes out is the result of poor accuracy. I seriously doubt that factoring this reality into the statistical analysis would change the results above, after all I don't need a statistical analysis to tell me that Semin is a much more accurate shooter than Ovi. But it's worth pointing out.

Posted by: struggler | December 4, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

The analyses confirms what many have said and I think many of us already knew. In terms of "pure talent" Semin is better then Ovechkin. The difference historically has been one of desire and effort. I say historically because the Semin we've seen this year seems to want it more then in the past and it's showing in his stats and in his defense particularly. Ovi scores a ton of goals that are simply about will power. He doesn't give up no matter what, he just keeps on coming over and over as hard as he can and he eventually catches you. His slap shot is among the best for sure though Semins is as well. In skating and puck handeling however that has to go to Semin hands down. Backstrom is a better skater and puck handler then Ovi as well for that matter. It's Ovis desire that has set him apart. Backstrom would rank a close 2nd to Semin in skating and puck handeling but Semin has a better shot. Ovie and Semin are fairly equal in terms of accuracy with their shots though I would give a slight edge to Semin. When Semin wants to play and is willing to work hard, play smart and never give up he can almost score at will. That's no shot at Ovechkin either. As a matter of fact it's actually been a shot at Semin in the past. Ovie get's it done in spite of whatever shortcomings (and they are minor) he has. Semin doesn't consistently reach his potential. Hopefully that's changing this season though!!! So far so good! The more Ovie passes and get's assists the more they have to guard Semin and Backstrom and the more Ovie will get his chances again. The point will come with those 3 on the ice that you will either have to play them straight up or pick your poison even more then you do now. It's all good if you're a Caps fan and want the Cup!!!! :)

Posted by: emudd | December 4, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

The analyses confirms what many have said and I think many of us already knew. In terms of "pure talent" Semin is better then Ovechkin.

It does NO such thing.

You know how you can determine who's the better goal-scorer? You look at their stats, look under the "G" and see who's got the bigger number... not just this season but in their career.

Why do these guys like Greenberg always wanna make things seem more complicated than they actually are???

Posted by: joek443 | December 4, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

i think the article is trying to show who has more skill vs luck - not who has the most goals. i agree - semin has more skill
but as emudd says - ovi has will. who's more valuable - i'd have to give that one to ovi

Posted by: Capt_Kirk_in_AZ | December 4, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Simulation programs are widely used in racing, such as CFD (computational Fluid Dynamics) which is basically a virtual wind tunnel that F1 teams use to design their cars.

Even NASCAR, yes most of the top NASCAR teams use various simulation programs to come up with the setups of their cars because of the ban on testing on the tracks.

I don't see how any such programs can be used to predict or analyze anything in hockey or any other stick/ball sport!!!

Posted by: joek443 | December 4, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

I agree that Ovi is unmatched in will and endurance. I think another big difference between Ovi and Semin is that Ovi is bigger and stronger and harder to injure. Semin has had nagging injuries in past years that have slowed him down. Ovi has seemed nearly indestructible. Semin has been healthy so far this year. Let's hope it continues.

Posted by: ccCapsfan | December 4, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Why on earth would you assign the league average shooting percentage to each player? By doing do you guaranteed this conclusion. Isn't each player's career shooting percentage an indication of their respective skill, and something that should be accounted for in this analysis?

Posted by: noogiepuck | December 4, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Actually I think what this proves, if anything, is something Mr. Greenberg pointed out about six weeks ago, which is that Ovechkin takes lower percentage shots.

This is something some of us first pointed out in the Montreal series. It was bombs away from the point all during those power plays. Now we saw vs Tampa last week Semin gets a hat trick, all three goals I think were sniper shots from the left faceoff circle. For one thing, Tampa doesn't have Montreal's defense. Neither Ovi nor Semin in that series had so many high percentage shots and, when they did, Semin missed the net.

I think if they did an accuracy contest, like they do in the All-Star competition, the kind Ray Bourque used to win (all four targets in only four shots), Semin and Ovi would be close to equal in skill.

Posted by: tominsocal1 | December 4, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

@joek443 (response to another thread)

my point about the whole Stevens/Brown ongoing war was that Stevens was the only one capable and willing to stick up for our team against the "thugs" and "goons" would have been nice to have someone else filling that role back then, but we didn't so Stevens would step-up and do what needed to be done. Aggression, intimidation, and fighting will always be a part of the game, but it was even moreso back then

With Erskine and DJK outta the lineup, we'll have no one to intimidate the other team or stand-up to the "thugs and goons" who we'll inevitably some fans, that's a good thing; to fans like myself and hunterforcoach, we remember the pain and humiliation of being bullied in our own barn and hearing 1/2 the arena cheer for the Flyers.....Stevens always set things right for us fans, giving us a sense of pride that we wouldn't be bullied all the time.

Posted by: vermontcaps | December 4, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

That's the whole point, Joe; Stevens continued to battle Brown BECAUSE HE WAS THE ONLY ONE ON THE TEAM CAPABLE OF PUTTING BROWN IN HIS PLACE WHEN HE HAD TO BE PUT IN HIS PLACE. Aggression, intimidation, and fighting play an important part in the game, even moreso back in the 80's

No he wasn't... they weren't BB's Caps, they had other guys on the team whose job it was to deal with guys like Brown.

Do you think Bryan Murrary was happy to see Stevens fight guys like Brown? That's the last thing any hockey coach wants to see... one of his top players fighting a GOON on the other team.

Do we want to see Ovi fight some goon and break his hand like Stewart of the Avs did and be out for a couple months??

Posted by: joek443 | December 4, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse


randy holt and dwight schofield tried to fill that role, but Stevens was the man...his penalty minutes (and thus not playing)were well earned and greatly appreciated by us....there was nothing stupid about it at the time, and the Flyers certainly didnt "win" because Stevens did what they wanted him to do

Posted by: vermontcaps | December 4, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

did you see Colorado's GM take on Stewart's injury? He's not losing any sleep, and he's not telling Stewart to tone it down

Posted by: vermontcaps | December 4, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Mike Keenan was the HAPPIEST guy in the arena everytime he saw Stevens drop the gloves against Brown or Berube.

Posted by: joek443 | December 4, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

you didn't mind seeing Stevens fight a guy like Tim Kerr because that would have been an even trade... but NOT guys like Brown.

Posted by: joek443 | December 4, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Congratulation, Neal. Another totally worthless and meaningless waste of everybody's time and energy.

Posted by: Wiley_One1 | December 4, 2010 5:42 PM | Report abuse

those fights are also selfish fights... someone challenges your manhood and you drop the gloves against INFERIOR players.

you're not thinking about the team, you're only thinking about yourself!!!

Posted by: joek443 | December 4, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

I am of the mindset that everyone should stick up for themselves UNLESS they are not in a position to do so. We're talking about HOCKEY. Skill guys who can and are willing to drop the gloves send a message to the other team and ultimately create their own space. Guys who are of that mindset are usually looked upon as "leaders". Remember, this is hockey and this is part of the game...

Posted by: sca187 | December 4, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, but am I missing something fundamental here... why does the analysis assume they both have the same shooting percentage? Isn't that basically saying "assume that if they both have the same shot, they'll score the same amount." I know Semin has a sick shot, but I think Ovechkin's proven that his shots are harder to stop. They're more unpredictable (i.e., he shoots at all corners of the goal), hidden much better than Semin's (i.e., he uses screens and defensemen legs better).

I know Mr. Greenberg is trying to write about counterintuitive ideas, but peddling this as statistical analysis makes me cringe a little. Maybe it's the best we can do with imperfect data, but the leaps of faith and massive assumptions should be caveated better.

Posted by: TripDonkeys | December 4, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

I still remember watching Peter Sundstrom ducking hits and shying away from all physical play. That was embarrassing to see as a Caps fan... As long as the fight is not "staged" and as long as the fight happens within the heat of the moment, I think it can be the opposite of "selfish". Obviously playing the game comes first, but within the game there is intimidation. If the guys on the team don't show that they won't stand for the intimidation, they will ultimately fail.

Posted by: sca187 | December 4, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

one more point on Stevens, during his early years with the Caps, they really only had 3 d-men who could play... Langway, Stevens and Engblom who was later replaced by Larry Murphy.

and every team in the league knew that so which of those three would you say was the mostly likely to take the bait and drop the gloves??

Posted by: joek443 | December 4, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe you're arguing Stevens style of play with us was a negative thing on his part. I suppose Cam Neely never should have fought, either. Stevens fought every year he played in the nhl, it's what makes players like him special (i heard him once say that when he went looking for fights when the game was already decided, nobody would want to fight him....that's reputation!) As he matured in NJ, he learned how and when to fight on his own terms, but he NEVER EVER failed to respond to a situation on the ice when called for. What in the world is wrong w/myself and hunterforcoach to have liked him for that very reason, and bemoaning the fact we'll sorely miss that kind of character w/erskine out of the lineup?

Posted by: vermontcaps | December 4, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

none of stevens and brown's fights were ever was personal and nasty and i'm glad he never backed down and always made us proud to be caps fans!! now i'm pumped :) GO CAPS, KICK ATLANT'A A@@

Posted by: vermontcaps | December 4, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse

hey I'm no math major but if you only have 3 d-men you can play and one of them spends a lot of time in the penalty box, that will only leave you with TWO guys who can play...

who would that benefit??

Posted by: joek443 | December 4, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

i'm thinking either Ovi or Fehr are going to have a breakout night, and (given the recent history) something's going to happen and we'll be rising to the occasion!!

Posted by: vermontcaps | December 4, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

none of stevens and brown's fights were ever was personal and nasty

Thanks for making my point... they were BAITING him to fight and he fell for it just about every time!!

Posted by: joek443 | December 4, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse


peace :) we can continue later, i do love revisiting those times and their relevance to today, but now i'm all pumped for tonight!! I don't wan't to see Thorburn, Eager, Boulton, and Bufglien play w/impunity, i'm hoping Erskine and someone new make me feel that same sense of pride...old-school hockey tonight!!
(i'm jealous of all of you who have daily personal contact w/other caps fan and can get your fix daily....i've got no one, thus i've been on here a lot). GO CAPS

Posted by: vermontcaps | December 4, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

though i'm still not conceding your last post :) lol GO CAPS!

Posted by: vermontcaps | December 4, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

in fact, i'm so high on the caps right now i'll be willing to forgo a promise i made earlier today, that being to forever refer to **** as Dork. As soon as he aggressively sticks up for a teammate, and i won't expect him to fight, i will return to calling him by his real name....GO CAPS, KICK ATLANT'S A**...20 MINUTES TO GO!

Posted by: vermontcaps | December 4, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

thanks joek443.....though not conceding, definitely respecting GO CAPS, KICK ATLANTA'S A@@

Posted by: vermontcaps | December 4, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

What is the chances of any team winning the Stanley Cup using a second line center who has had NO assists in 18 of his first 19 games this season. Is it possible for any team to win the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the near complete lack of a second line center with play making ability?

Posted by: dull | December 4, 2010 10:51 PM | Report abuse

I just now received my free product sample from name brand companies, quite a few of them from "123 Get Samples" online

Posted by: gloriavelez | December 5, 2010 2:03 AM | Report abuse

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