Puck Battles: Blake Wheeler is about to "Break Out"

 

Puck Battles is a semi-regular column exploring a few key issues around the NHL. Hopefully you don't agree with the opinion expressed by the author, that way we get to argue more. The only thing that can't be argued is Milan Lucic's dominance over the Sabres. He's in their kitchen.

I've got news for you. Blake Wheeler is about to "rediscover his work ethic", "play with heart" by driving to the net and of course get himself "in the zone". Do I know this because I've been talking to Pierre McGuire about his practice habits? Of course not. I just know that he's not a career 2.1% shooter, which is the rate he's currently converting his shots at.

 

Take a look at Wheeler's career goal, shot and shooting percentage numbers by season:

2008-09                81 GP    21 G       150 shots             14.0%

2009-10                82 GP    18 G       159 shots             11.3%

2010-11                81 GP    18 G       179 shots             10.1%

2011-12                21 GP    1 G         48 shots               2.1%

It would be concerning if his shot volume had dropped off significantly, but that is hardly the case. Each year Wheeler has increased his number of shots and each year his shooting percentage has dipped a little bit. This year, he's on pace for 180-190 shots.  In all likelihood, he'll convert 10-11% of his chances, and end up with 18-20 goals.

That said, with only 1 goal to his name at the moment, the running story is that he can't find his groove in coach Noel's system or doesn't fit that well with his linemates. The real reason is most likely puck luck, so get ready to see him start pumping the net full as the breaks start going his way.

The Best Article I Read This Week

I know a lot of people think that Sidney Crosby's big return on Monday night was a little overhyped given that he lit up an Islanders squad playing their 38th string goaltender. However, JT Bourne of Backhand Shelf had a take on the situation that I thought was fantastic. Check it out here.

Best Idea that Hasn't Happened Yet

Well, it happened once last year, but I'd like to see it happen more often. Other teams should be calling the Jets endlessly about taking a "slumping" player like Wheeler off their hands. The Blackhawks picked up Frolik from Florida last year in much the same way, and got a bargain in the process.

Western Canadian Thought of the Week

Given the theme above, I think the Oilers should have been shopping Nikolai Khabibulin all over the league after his hot start. Much like it's counterpart in the German capital, the Bulin Wall has seen better days. This late-career performance (0.936 sv%) is fairly uncharacteristic for a goalie with a career save percentage of 0.908. I'd rather see the young Oilers pick up a defenseman in a trade for Khabibulin and give Devan Dubnyk a run at the starter's role.

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