Some may think “shots on goal” is an overrated statistic for a hockey club. While in some cases it is, it can also reveal a team’s identity.
The Washington Capitals scored 178 5-on-5 goals during the 2016-17 regular season, which ties them with the NY Islanders for 3rd best in the NHL. The Capitals and Islanders were only ranked behind the Minnesota Wild and Pittsburgh Penguins respectively.
While the Capitals were in the top-5 in goals forced per game, the Capitals were alarmingly ranked 13th in the NHL with shots forced per game. The Capitals averaged 30.4 shots per game during the regular season. While the Capitals were stuck in the middle of the pack with shots per game, the Pittsburgh Penguins led the entire NHL with shots forced with an average of 33.5 shots per game.
On average, the Penguins threw 4 more pucks at the opposition’s net during the regular season than the Capitals did. While it may not seem like a major difference, 4 more shots per game through 82 games can add up quickly with goal scoring.
SYSTEM FLAW OR TEAM FLAW?
It is clear that the Capitals major flaw in their on-ice attack is lack of shots on net. There were too many instances during the regular season and playoffs where the Capitals would attempt to make the fancy play, instead of the smart play on the ice.
Let’s look at some shots on goal data from the regular season. I will compare the Capitals top forwards with the Penguins top forwards.
CAPITALS TOP SHOOTERS
PENGUINS TOP SHOOTERS
COMPARING THE PENGUINS ATTACK WITH THE CAPITALS ATTACK
The Penguins “Big 3” consisting of Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Phil Kessel all finished the season with over 70 points each. Evgeni Malkin was the only skater of the Big 3 that did not finish with 200+ shots, but he came very close at 191 shots on goal. Malkin would have likely finished with more than 200 shots on goal, if he did not miss 20 regular season games.
Outside of the Penguins “Big 3” forwards up front, Patric Hornqvist finished with 21 goals and 44 points. While Hornqvist’s production was not close to the Big 3, he was right up there in the shots on goal statistic with 223 shots.
Conor Sheary, who also saw some ice time with the Big 3, finished the regular season with 23 goals and 53 points. He finished the season with 154 shots on goal, despite missing an extended period of the regular season.
The Penguins get a bulk of their shooting production from their top forwards. Their Top 6 forward group is very balanced and their stars are surrounded by players who are willing to pull the trigger and willing to make plays at the net.
Shifting over to the Capitals, the Capitals were one of the healthiest teams in the NHL for most of the regular season.
The Capitals “Big 3” consisting of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov all finished the regular season with 50+ points or more.
While the Capitals “Big 3” performed well, only Ovechkin registered over 200+ shots on goal for the Capitals. Ovechkin led the Capitals in shots on goal once again in 2016-17 with 313 shots.
Outside of the Capitals “Big 3,” T.J. Oshie had the most productive regular season. Oshie had 33 goals and 56 points, but only recorded 143 shots on goal, which was ranked 7th among Capitals skaters. In Oshie’s defense to his low shot totals, he missed 14 regular season games, so his point and shot totals would have likely been higher.
The other piece to the Capitals Top 6 puzzle is Marcus Johansson. Johansson had a career year statistically, as he recorded 24 goals and 58 points. While Mojo posted good statistical numbers and ranked 4th among Capitals skaters in points, his shots on goal number was extremely low as he finished the regular season with 129 shots on goal. Johansson played in all 82 regular season games for the Capitals.
Justin Williams played mainly on the Capitals second line during the regular season. He finished with 24 goals and 48 points which was 6th among Capitals skaters, but he was ranked 4th on the team with 167 shots on goal.
The most interesting statistic with the Capitals shots on goal numbers is that defenseman John Carlson finished 2nd among Capitals skaters with 180 shots on goal. Carlson, who missed 10 regular season games, finished with more shots on goal than Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, T.J. Oshie, and Justin Williams.
While it is not uncommon for an NHL defenseman to lead his club respectively in shots on goal, Carlson’s shot totals tell the story about the Capitals flawed offensive attack.
The correlation is there for anyone to see in the shots on goal statistics and goals forced statistics. While the Capitals were one of the league’s best in goals forced this year, they were among the league’s middle of the pack with shots on goal.
When a club is in the middle of the pack with shots on goal and is a league leader in goals forced, that can only mean that the club tends to pass up a lot of shots on goal.
While the Capitals star player, Alex Ovechkin, is a shoot-first minded player, other players on the Capitals roster appear to not be “shoot-first” players. John Carlson leading the Capitals shooting attack is good for John Carlson and good for the Capitals blueline, but it is not necessarily a good thing for the Capitals offensive attack. The Capitals forwards need to be examined closer and the Capitals might need to explore acquiring a shoot first player from somewhere during the summer.
By: George Foussekis