A few weeks ago, I was playing in a weekly beer league hockey game with some McGill University staff members. At one point, I came down the left wing with the puck, looked off a defender and whipped a wrist shot high, far side.
However, instead of the puck going bar-down as I had (ambitiously) hoped, it caromed off the glass and went all the way around the rink for an odd-man rush against. When I got back to the bench, someone said something to the effect of: “Stop missing high and wide. You’re just helping the other team break out of their zone.”
It was a light-hearted chirp – we weren’t playing for the Stanley Cup, after all. But it got me thinking about coaches who yell up and down the hall when their teams don’t “put the puck on net.” Is it really something that some teams do better than others?
A few days ago, our friend Micah Blake McCurdy did some work in an effort to answer that question. He took a look at the proportion of goals/shots on net/missed shots/blocked shots for each NHL in the past two seasons. Here is what he found:
Shot Types Breakdown: 2014-15
Shot Types Breakdown: 2015-16
Essentially, Micah found that in the past two years, NHL coaches have shown no ability to affect how skilled their teams are at putting shots on net.
While many coaches emphasize “getting pucks through” or “making the goalie play” in their pre-game pep talks, it seems to be mostly ambient noise, since none of them are able to actually influence how likely their players are to hit the net despite putting importance on this part of the game.
The best coaches are better at driving shot differential (Corsi or any other shot differential measure) with their systems, but once a shot is taken, all bets are off. Across teams, the proportion of shots on net to blocks and misses tends to even out with time.
However, this is not to say that individual players can’t become more accurate shooters through training. NHLers develop skill through practice, and anyone who’s ever watched hockey knows that Alex Ovechkin shoots the puck better than anyone else on the planet. He has an above-average success rate shooting from any part of the ice and is one of the best scorers in recent NHL history.
Yet Ovechkin misses the net all the time. Obnoxiously often, if you watch him through a certain lens, even though that is simply a function of him being the highest-volume shooter in the NHL.
What could be happening here, then, is that better shooters tend to take more shots from lower-percentage areas (thereby getting more of them blocked) and aiming for smaller targets (and sometimes missing the net). Considering that shot attempt volume is the best predictor of future scoring, and that NHL goalies save over 91% of shots on net, this is a perfectly fine strategy for a shooter to adopt.
The takeaway here is that coaches and players shouldn’t worry about missed or blocked shots. Having the puck in a position for a shot attempt is a good thing, and taking aim with a clear intention of scoring a goal is a good thing, too. If the shot misses or gets blocked, no problem. It’s as simple as getting the puck back and trying again – that’s the repeatable skill worth developing.
On occasion, a miss or a block at a critical time may change the outcome of a game, but trust Micah and me when we say: “It doesn’t really matter.”
Jack Han is the Video & Analytics Coordinator for the McGill Martlet Hockey team. He also writes occasionally about the NHL for Habs Eyes on the Prize. You can find him on Twitter or on the ice at McConnell Arena.