Jason Lewis writes about the Pacific Division for Hockey Prospectus and writes about the Kings for Hockey Buzz
It seems simple in hockey. Get to the “High scoring areas” and shoot. Your chances are much higher of scoring when you enter into the area between the circles and below the dots. Examples of this can be found on any league wide success rate chart.
As of right now, on January 18, team to team shooting percentages in all situations vary from 10.6-8.8 in the mid to upper range, and 8.8 down to 6.4 in the mid to lower range. You get a full range that differs by about 4 percent. That really does not seem like that much at first glance. That is 40 goals for every 1000 shots you take. That is 4 goals for every 100 shots you take. So over the course of four to five games that might be an extra four goals you had if you are taking 20-25 shots a game, AKA an extra one goal a game. When broken down into goals per game, it makes a huge difference. That one goal could send you from 2.9 goals per game down to 1.9, or from 3rd (Boston Bruins) to 30th (Anaheim Ducks).
But if the team to team success rates are at only 8-10% at the top, what are the success rates of shots in “High scoring areas” ?
If you look at the high slot, or a medium danger area, as of January 18, at even strength teams were only shooting 3.48% from the high slot. From the high danger areas it was closer to 8%. From out high on the points, a low danger area? A whopping 1.58%
On the powerplay that changes drastically, as you would expect. This is where the league itself and teams make up for their even strength shooting percentages. In the high slot it raises up to 5.5%, in the low slot it shoots up to 10.92%, and even the low danger out high it raises up to 4.17%.
This varies team by team obviously. Washington right now is shooting at just under 10% in the high danger area of the low slot at even strength, and they are shooting at 4.01% in the medium danger areas. Edmonton, by comparison, is shooting better in the high danger areas (10.68), slightly worst in the medium danger areas (3.8) but cannot buy a goal from the point (0.95).
These are little nuances dictated by style, opponent, and quality of players. However, overall it is really hard to find a repeatable kind of success when asked the question of what matters. Is it where you shoot from or how often you shoot?
There was another great roundtable discussion on Hockey Graphs recently, this time about shot quality (http://hockey-graphs.com/2016/01/12/hockey-talk-shot-quality/). It is definitely worth taking time out of your day to check it out.
It brings up a pretty relevant debate, as we are in the midst of the league talking about potentially changing facets of the game to increase scoring. You can change the pad size, you can change the net size, but a good portion of the lack of scoring in the league is system based. Teams flat out play good defense. They get in lanes, they block shots, they keep areas clear so goalies can see pucks. It is really hard to score in the NHL, and for good reason. We are talking about five percent shooting being roughly average for a shot being taken from an area coined as “Medium-Danger”. How ridiculous is that? With less players in the way, with less traffic, and more space, scoring goes up, percentages go up. Like on a powerplay. However at even strength it can at times feel less about quality of chances and more about how much spaghetti you are throwing at the wall. A couple of player examples can be brought up on each side of the spectrum.
Dustin Brown. He lies, perhaps, on one end of the spectrum of quantity versus quality. Since 2009-10, SportingCharts has Brown lying at around an 8.72% shooting percentage at even strength, with 90 goals and 1032 shots taken. War on Ice has it slightly different with a 6.86% personal shooting percentage, 77 goals, and 1123 shots taken. Whichever one you believe, the numbers look fairly average. Then look at a heat map of where Brown shoots from.
It is kind of all over the place right?
Now let’s go to the other end of our spectrum, Alex Tanguay.
Tanguay may be one of the most selective shooters in the last 10 years of the NHL. He has a career 18.7% shooting percentage, which is insanely high. He has several seasons over 20%. The counterbalance to this is that Tanguay shoots at a routinely low rate. In fully health seasons, the now 36 year old would take around 100 shots. In comparison, Brown has had fully healthy seasons where he takes anywhere between 250-300 shots. Over the past 6-7 years, Tanguay has scored 62 goals to Brown’s 77, but has scored at a per 60 rate of .71 to Brown’s .59. His shooting percentage is over 10% higher than that of Brown, but he has take an incredibly lower amount of shots.
When we say incredibly lower, it really is. If we take a round number, over Browns last 600 games, he has taken 1180 shots at even strength. Tanguay has taken half that in the same time frame, at 567. Goal wise it is 98 to 78 in favor of Tanguay.
Here to put it all in perspective is Tanguay’s heat map from SportingCharts (Which dates back to 2009-10.
These two players are examples of extremely different mentalities. Anyone who has watched the Kings in the last five years will tell you they have asked “Why is he shooting from there?” about Dustin Brown at least five times. On the flipside, Avalanche and Flames fans can attest to having screamed “Shoot!” at the T.V. multiples times when it comes to Tanguay. Considering each approach nets almost the same amount of goals, it is hard to be upset with either right?
With Brown there is a takeaway. At some point there has to be diminishing returns of how much he shoots. For every shot he takes that is potentially one shot another player on his line is not taking. Or, from a systems standpoint, it is an offensive zone chance that goes by the wayside with a seemingly harmless shot. If he is on a line with two players who have no penchant for shooting, then what is the harm? However, if he is on a line with Anze Kopitar or Justin Williams, we see detrimental goals for rate statistics to those players.
2012-16 WOWY for Brown
For Tanguay, there has to be diminishing returns for the amount of times he HASN’T shot, or maybe passed up a clear scoring opportunity. However, if he shoots more, the odds of his shooting percentage falling to a lower level are much higher. Who knows if he never shoots right? These are two players that are fun to look at due to how different they play the game in the offensive zone. Most players, when looking at heat maps and where they shoot from, fall into similar areas and similar mentalities. We have players like Ovechkin or Malkin, however, that take a boat load of shots and scores on about 12-14% of them. Then there are the Jason Blakes, Nathan Gerbes and Dustin Browns of the league who take a lot of shots and do not score on that many of them. (Sans the 06-07 Jason Blake season.)
It is hard to say which approach is better. Try to fight through the great defensive systems of the NHL and get better quality shots? Or simply throw buckets of spaghetti at the wall from everywhere all the time at hope they go in. Do yourself a favor, go to NHL.com, set your years to the last 10 for forwards, and sort it by shot quantity. Some of the best shooters in the league percentage wise also take the most shots. Do you think they care where they take them from or do they just trust that they will score from anywhere on the ice eventually if they are a good enough shooter?