Nick Bonino is probably one of the least expected players to be leading the Nashville Predators in goal scoring at any point in the regular season.
But here we are, nearly a week into November, with Bonino sitting at 1st in goals (8) and 4th in total points (12).
This is not exactly how the Preds’ offense was supposed to run. But since the Preds are getting 4.00 goals per game, which leads the entire NHL, there’s probably very little complaining from the coaching staff or the fans.
You see it was supposed to go like this: Matt Duchene was supposed to bring balance to the top six, giving the Preds two dangerous scoring lines with speed and skill to match. Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson were supposed to build on their chemistry with Ryan Johansen and soar their way towards the coveted 40 goal mark. Mikael Granlund was supposed to finally get comfortable in Nashville and rebound back to a 60-point playmaking forward. Craig Smith was supposed to score at least 20 goals, like he always does.
And the rest of the forwards, like Colton Sissons, Austin Watson, and the aforementioned Bonino, were supposed to play their role as two-way forwards with heavy defensive assignments.
All of those expected outcomes have happened so far, except for that last one.
Nick Bonino’s line with Sissons and Watson has been a relatively productive one from a goal scoring standpoint, despite the heavy defensive workload. In particular, Bonino himself has been very productive so far, getting eight goals on 31 shots, all while driving offensive play at a rate higher than he has in his entire career.
So how has Nick Bonino pushed his way to the top of the Preds’ goal scoring early on? A few reasons.
Dangerous shots from dangerous areas
For one, Bonino is getting shots off from very dangerous areas. Almost every one of Bonino’s eight goals has come from the slot area. And most of those are coming from within a few feet of the opposing goalie.
Here’s a good look at where Bonino’s even strength goals have come from this season so far, courtesy of his spray chart from Hockey Viz (goals are in red, saves by the goalie are in blue):
It’s simple math really. The closer you are to the net, the higher your chances of scoring goals. And right now, Bonino is getting very close to the net and getting shots off with regularity.
Filip Forsberg has been injured
While we are focusing primarily on Bonino’s early success with goal scoring this season, it would be unfair to acknowledge that the Preds’ best goal scorer has missed six games so far.
Filip Forsberg is probably the Preds’ most talented and skilled goal scorer (though Viktor Arvidsson and Matt Duchene aren’t that far behind). He is able to do things with the puck that most players, Nick Bonino included, aren’t able to do.
In fact, if you look at the rate at which each skater has been producing “expected goals” (a metric that takes into account shot type and shot distance and applying an “expected rate of goal scoring” to each one), Filip Forsberg has been the best player on the team:
#Preds leaders in individual expected goals per hour (ixG/60)
1. Filip Forsberg – 1.44
2. Nick Bonino – 0.73
3. Austin Watson – 0.72
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) November 6, 2019
Nick Bonino is 2nd on the team in expected goals per hour, but Forsberg leads him by a wide margin. It seems reasonable that if Forsberg hadn’t missed six games with a lower body injury, he would probably have more goals than Bonino by now.
A little luck didn’t hurt anybody… Bonino included
Finally, there is always a luck factor when it comes to goal scoring.
Just think about it. Even the best goal scorers only succeed about 18-20% of the time. About 80% of the time, even guys like Alexander Ovechkin aren’t scoring goals when they shoot.
That’s because luck is such a huge part of hockey. The combination of a rubber disc on a sheet of ice leads to unpredictable bounces and caroms that often defy logic. Luck happens in hockey more than any other sport, basketball and baseball included.
So when you look at Bonino’s shooting percentage and see he’s hovering at around 25% so far, a mark higher than the career shooting averages of guys like Sidney Crosby and the aforementioned Ovechkin?
Yeah you can expect that number to come down a bit.
Still… a little luck never hurt anybody. Nick Bonino included.
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —