Hockey Tactics

Why You Shouldn’t Always Yell “Shoot the Puck!”

It is a rite of passage as a hockey fan to desperately scream “Shoot the puck!” at the team you root for.  It’s heard in arenas, bars and living rooms the world over, and why not?  After all, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.  Getting the puck to the net is never a bad play.  Insert hockey cliche here.  

Last night during the Rangers/Blackhawks game, Eddie Olczyk (who is currently battling colon cancer, and working for NBC Sports during his 24-weeks of chemotherapy – get well, Edzo!) pointed out several 2-on-1 chances for the Rangers that didn’t result in a shot on goal.  On the surface, this seems both insane and infuriating.  But if you’ve watched the Rangers closely, especially in the Alain Vigneault era, you know that this isn’t necessarily something new.

Most importantly, it’s produced results, in the form of a higher shooting percentage (which can’t be solely chalked up to luck, since it’s sustained itself over the course of nearly four full seasons), and lots of goals.  Listed below are the Rangers shooting percentages (all strengths) compared to that season’s league average:

  • 2013-14: NYR 7.9 / League Average 8.9
  • 2014-15: NYR 9.6 / League Average 8.9
  • 2015-16: NYR 10.0 / League Average 9.0
  • 2016-17: NYR 10.4 / League Average 9.0
  • This season (through 18 games): NYR 10.2 / League Average 9.4

Over the last few years, we’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to some great analysis by Steve Valiquette, former Blueshirts backup goalie extraordinaire, and coiner of the term “Royal Road” (though he now prefers “slot line”).  Valiquette has studied shot quality and the impact of pre-shot puck movement on the goalie’s ability to make a save.  Valiquette’s research has proven that pucks which cross the slot line have a much better chance of becoming a goal, especially when compared to shots that originate from further from the net at bad angles.

The Rangers are masters at the slot line pass, both on the rush and now – with Kevin Shattenkirk, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich really exhibiting chemistry – on the power play as well.  Dave pointed out in his game recap last Saturday how all three of the Rangers’ non empty-net goals against Edmonton resulted directly from successful cross-ice feeds which led to pretty one-time finishes.

While the Rangers are a flawed team, they are demonstrably great at creating scoring chances, even though they don’t usually own a lion’s share of the total shot attempts.  This partially explains the current gap between their Expected Goals For per game (2.73, 6th in the NHL – good!) and Expected Goals Against (2.77, 30th – bad).

A huge reason for the Rangers offensive success is their approach.  As I pointed out above, it’s not simply down to shooting luck.  The Rangers operate in an offensive philosophy which gives the players license to “make plays with the puck”, which is a roundabout way of saying that they’re encouraged to make the extra pass.  Because often enough, making the extra pass leads to a tap-in goal.

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  • Great post Rob!

    As I’ve been saying for a couple years, the Rangers style of offensive play under AV breaks the Corsi/Fenwick methods for evaluating puck possession. This is why. The Rangers pass on chasing a high quantity of shots attempts in favor of only taking high quality shots. The Rangers are a high end skill team and this is more empirical evidence of that. Any shots that aren’t of a high quality are basically giveaways, so moaning about a missed connection on a slot line pass is pointless. The missed pass is a giveaway just as the low quality shot that had almost 0% chance of going in is a giveaway.

    The data collection and research Valiquette and his partners have been conducting, based on tracking exact shot locations and their results, will revolutionize the way we understand hockey in the attacking zone and what makes a good goalkeeper. The more evidence that piles up showing that long distance shots turn into goals at an embarrassingly low rate (under 1%), the quicker we will rid ourselves of morons filling NHL arenas bellowing “shoot the puck!”

    Can we have a post soon that explains why a shooter hitting a goalie’s chest has nothing to do with the shooter and everything to do with the goalie positioning himself well in tandem with the defensive team covering all possible passes?

    • Thanks for the compliments Chris!

      I do agree with you in the sense that people tend to overemphasize volume shooting, but I also think it’s important to remember that generally, the teams who win the Stanley Cup are on the higher end of the CF%/FF% spectrum. The main problem I see with the Rangers right now is that, while they’re good at creating offense, they’re also terrible at preventing their opponent from doing the same. Makes for exciting hockey, at least!

    • Taking a clean shot is a better option then a high risk pass. You might get a rebound. Two of Arties goals were off 2nd and 3rd chances.

      For all you stat hounds I’m curious what % of goals are scored on rebounds. I’ll bet its pretty high

      • In 2015 it was about 8%, significantly lower than the 20% of goals that are the result of passes across the slot line.

  • I understand the stats, and even agree with them, but any shot NOT taken has a 100% chance of not being a goal.

    An odd man rush is a golden opportunity to score. Sometimes we need to embrace the fact that a very good shot, while less than a perfect open-net tap in, is better than no shot at all.

    PS – We are allowed to hang around in front of the goalie if he fails to cover up. Let’s try not to forget this.

  • How would it be to recall ADA and have him play 4th lime wing and 2ed pair PP . We could then have himdress as 7th D man or 4th line wing . Also watching Bo N i do think he will turn out to be a good 4th line C , he is sneaky quick and maybe he could be worked into the PK with Quickie and free up Hayes for the 2ed PP unit

  • I don’t ever yell “shoot” but it is pretty efing aggravating seeing odd man rushes that result in no shot on goal or a chance in the slot 10 feet from the goal that is passed up for a bad angle shot that has no chance of scoring a goal.

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