One of the key facets of Coach Peter Laviolette’s offensive strategy is generating a large quantity of shots on goal, rather than focusing on the quality of chances. This concept is opposite of what previous head coaches Barry Trotz and Todd Reirden have preached in previous iterations of the Capitals, but is this true on the ice so far this season?
On the surface, generating more shots on goal can create more chances to score. More volume doesn’t always mean more goals, but it can generate flurries of chances on rebounds or redirections off of the end-boards.
In 48 games played so far this season, the Capitals have outshot their opponents in 24 games, and have been outshot by their opponents in 21 games, leaving three games where the Capitals had the same amount of shots on goals as their opponents. In games where the Capitals have outshot opponents, they are 16-8-0 (66.66 points percentage), and are 12-5-4 (66.66 points percentage) when being outshot.
Compared to last season, the Caps were 25-12-3 (66.23 points percentage) when outshooting their opponents, and 12-6-3 (64.28 points percentage) when outshot by their opponents.
So, what’s the deal here? The Caps have had a higher points percentage when outshooting their opponents this season than last, but have the same exact points percentage when being outshot by their opponents. There’s a few explanations for why this might be the case, but it’s pretty clear that the Capitals aren’t generating more shots on goal under Laviolette’s tutelage than in previous seasons.
Let’s take a look at the Capitals’ shots on goal and shots on goal against per game since the 2014-15 season:
The 2021 iteration of the Capitals have generated the fewest shots on goal per game over this seven season stretch, which is interesting. Laviolette’s push for shooting more often and generating more shots on goal doesn’t seem to be taking hold with the roster, especially compared to the Trotz and Reirden systems that measure quality of shots higher than quantity.
It almost appears to be the complete opposite under Laviolette, where the Caps have a significantly higher shooting percentage at all situations than in years’ past where quality was weighted higher by previous coaches.
So, why is this the case? For one, this is arguably the most skilled roster Laviolette has had at his disposal as a head coach, with the other candidate being the 2005-06 Stanley Cup Champion Carolina Hurricanes. On the other hand, this is just another indicator that coaches can only have so much impact on how players play on the ice.
The Capitals’ skill players (Ovechkin excluded here) typically look for the extra pass on chances, rather than putting the puck on net. The extra pass can lead to goaltenders moving laterally across the crease, which presents a higher danger scoring chance.
The other side of the coin is, shots on goal isn’t an indicator for success by itself. The Capitals are 23rd in the NHL in shots on goal this season at all strengths, but have scored the most goals in the NHL with 167, and are outpacing their expected goals for (117.68) by 49.22.
If we solely looked at expected goals for this season, the Caps would rank 21st in the NHL. There are only four teams that are currently in a playoff spot (Boston, Minnesota, St Louis, and Nashville) that have a lower expected goals for figure. You might read this and wonder why the Capitals are having success this season.
The answer is: shooting percentage. The Caps are leading the NHL in shooting percentage at 12.14%. Of the top 16 teams in the league in shooting percentage, there’s only four teams that aren’t currently in a playoff spot (New York Rangers, Arizona, Chicago, Dallas). Even then, those four teams are not quite eliminated yet, with the Stars two points out of a playoff spot with two games in hand on the Predators, the Rangers four points out of fourth in the East, Arizona one point out of fourth in the West, and Chicago seven points out of fourth in the Central with two games in hand.
Let’s take a look at the breakdown of shooting percentage by player during five on five play for the Capitals this season (with Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, and Jonas Siegenthaler excluded):
The forwards for the Capitals are having pretty decent success shooting the puck this season. The only two forwards that are under 10% are Garnet Hathaway and Carl Hagelin, which is fine, because they’re not expected to score goals like the rest of the top nine. The fourth line’s offensive output hasn’t been poor by any means, with Dowd, Hagelin, and Hathaway accounting for 19 goals this season.
As expected, shooting percentages from defensemen are always going to be lower than their forward counterparts, since they are typically taking shots from above the circles in the offensive zone. These shots are more easily blocked or redirected on their way to the net, and ultimately can be easier for a goaltender to react to if they have a clear line of sight. Even then, John Carlson has accounted for 10 goals and Orlov has scored seven.
Now, let’s take a look at the Capitals’ skaters shots on goal through the season so far:
Ovechkin leading the way here is no surprise. He consistently funnels pucks on net during five on five play and during the power play. The average shots on goal output for the team is 51, which is dragged down a bit due to Mantha’s short stint with the Caps this season, after being acquired at the trade deadline, as well as Trevor van Riemsdyk’s irregular playing time this season.
Long story short, the Capitals are definitely not generating more shots on goal under Laviolette’s system to funnel more shots on net. The one area the Capitals are seeing season-long success is in shooting percentage, where the Caps have hovered right around 11% all season.
We can see that outshooting opponents and being outshot by opponents on any given night results in the same exact points percentage, so we can likely conclude that when looking at a holistic season view, shots on goal per game is not an entirely useful metric for gauging success, where shooting percentage is more indicative of success. The question now is, can the Capitals’ high shooting percentage they’ve benefitted from so far this season, carry over into the playoffs?
By Justin Trudel