a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Saturday, 4 August 2012

08/04/12 The Truth About Shots On Goal

Evgeni Malkin led the NHL in shots for the 2011-12 season with 339 in total (4.52 per game). It turns out that getting a simple shot on goal is a very hard thing to do, and to expect even three per game from a player is a lofty goal. Here's why.

Sitting there watching an Oilers game, we've all fallen victim to the same misconception when thinking about shots. Expecting each player to get one shot per period is acceptable, right? We as fans think of a period of hockey as a twenty minute span, and whether we like it or not it sometimes seems like a lot longer. That makes getting a shot on goal in each period seem like child's play. But if we use Shawn Horcoff as an example, it's easy to see how getting one shot per period is a difficult thing to accomplish.

Horcoff led all Oilers forwards in 2011-12 with 19:35 of total ice time per game. That means that he spent an average of about six and a half minutes per period on the ice, or roughly two thirds of each period on the bench.

Part of the reason that Horcoff played as much as he did is that he was a trusted veteran who could be used in all three situations. He played an average of 14:03 at even strength, 2:39 shorthanded, and 2:52 on the powerplay. However, only 43.9% of his shifts started in the offensive zone at even strength, which in itself makes it less likely for him to register a shot on goal. The same is true for all penalty killing situations, which start in the defensive zone and are spent away from the offensive zone the vast majority of the time.

A shot on goal is not guaranteed even if a player is on the ice while putting pressure on the other team. There's still only one puck split between as many as five players, which means that for any one of them to get a shot on goal the other four will not get one on that particular sequence.

When you put it all together, Horcoff averaged just 1.52 shots per game in 2011-12.

That's why there are only 40 players (100+ GP) who have averaged three or more shots per game since the lockout. It takes a special push from the coaching staff, from teammates and also from a player's own natural ability to average three or more shots per game over any substantial length of time.

The encouraging thing for Oilers fans is that one of the 40 players mentioned above is Taylor Hall. The former Spitfire led the Oilers with 3.39 shots per game in 2011-12, and is 29th since the lockout in shots per game among players who have appeared in at least 100 games. Given the context it's easy to see what makes Hall such a special player.

But Hall may always be unique among Oilers in is his ability to pound shots on goal. That isn't necessarily a bad thing for the team, so long as fans realize how hard it is to get even one shot in an NHL game.

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