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Behind The Numbers

Mantha, Neal should have solid season after four-goal games, numbers show

Red Wings, Oilers forwards each poised to score 30

by Rob Reese @NHLReese / Staff Writer

Anthony Mantha of the Detroit Red Wings and James Neal of the Edmonton Oilers each had a four-goal game this week. Mantha did it in a 4-3 win against the Dallas Stars on Sunday, Neal in a 5-2 win against the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

According to the underlying numbers, those performances are an indication of good things to come for Mantha and Neal, who have five and six goals this season through three games. Each forward is poised to score at least 30 goals this season, something Mantha has yet to do in the NHL and Neal hasn't done since 2015-16. Here is a look at how they can get there:  

Mantha's shooting percentage of 29.4 percent through three games is not sustainable, nor is his average of 5.7 shots per game. He averaged 2.9 shots per game last season, when he scored 25 goals in 67 games on 198 shots. But if Mantha, who missed 15 games last season because of a broken hand, were to get his shots per game up to 3.5, which would result in 287 shots over the full 82 games, and his NHL career shooting percentage stayed at 13.2 percent, he would score 37 goals. Even if his shots per game stayed at his NHL career average of 2.53 and he scored at that same rate of 13.2 percent, he would have 26 goals over the final 79 games and finish with 31.

Mantha should have every opportunity to score 40 this season if his average ice time per game (20:12) remains consistent; he has never averaged more than 17:50 in his previous four NHL seasons. It also helps that he plays on the top line and first power-play unit with center Dylan Larkin, who scored an NHL career-high 73 points (32 goals, 41 assists) in 76 games last season and has five points (one goal, four assists) through three games this season. Mantha's surge is a continuation from last season, when he scored eight goals in his final eight games.

Video: DAL@DET: Mantha records first career four-goal game

When Neal scored four goals on Tuesday, he joined Mantha, Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks as the only NHL forwards to have four goals in an October game since 2013-14. He is one shy of his total in 63 games for the Calgary Flames last season. It's already looking like 2018-19 is an outlier for him, because prior to that Neal had seven straight seasons with at least 21 goals, including an NHL career-high 40 with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2011-12, when he played on a line centered by Evgeni Malkin. Neal scored at a 37-goal pace in 2013-14 but finished with 27 in 59 games.

Projecting Neal's scoring for the rest of the season is probably easier than doing so with Mantha, considering Neal plays on Edmonton's top power-play unit with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who each scored more than 100 points last season (McDavid 116, Draisaitl 105). Four of Neal's six goals have come on the power play. He led the NHL with 18 power-play goals in 2011-12, which shows that that sort of number is reachable for him. If opponents adjust and limit Neal's shots on the man-advantage (he has eight in three games), coach Dave Tippett could put him on McDavid and Draisaitl's line. He plays on Edmonton's second line with center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Joakim Nygard

It's encouraging that Neal's average time on ice per game is up from 14:57 last season to 18:13. His shots-per-game average (4.6) will likely regress closer to his NHL career average (3.0), and the same goes for his shooting percentage, which is 42.9 percent this season compared to his NHL career average of 11.8. If he reverted to those career averages, Neal would have 237 shots over the remaining 79 games, and if 11.8 percent of those shots were to go in, he would score an additional 27 goals, putting him at 33 for the season. Analytics can't account for the quality of McDavid and Draisaitl's passes, which could push Neal closer to reaching 40 like he did with Malkin.

Video: EDM@NYI: Neal scores four goals against Islanders

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