You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.
- Wayne Gretzky
The Preds are currently 30th in the league in shots per game (23.2), or 6.77 shots per game less than the current average, and their offense is struggling because of it. As of this writing they sit in 29th place with 1.67 goals per game, and their record stands at an abysmal 1-2-3.
None of this is meant to induce panic, just to say that boy oh boy is the Nashville offense playing terribly right now. Luckily, absolute numbers don’t mean much yet because the Preds have only played six games. Anything can happen in that short a span, so getting off to a poor start like the Nashville Predators have done isn’t the end of the world. Those shootout losses are morale crushers right now but the points the Preds earned will certainly come in handy as playoff season approaches – as long as the team corrects some basic flaws in execution.
With that in mind, what I’m interested in is just how much the team needs to improve its current play to right its trajectory and make the playoffs. Can they win games without scoring much? What about without shooting much? To get an idea of where they need to improve to make the playoffs I looked at all 16 teams that qualified in each season since the 2004-05 NHL lockout and examined how they rated in goals for, goals allowed, and shots forced per game. These were the teams with the fewest goals scored who made the playoffs in each of those years:
|WORST OFFENSES TO MAKE THE NHL PLAYOFFS, 2005-2012|
|2005-06||Calgary||3rd West||2.63 (27th)||2.35 (1st)||28.0 (27th)|
|2006-07||New Jersey||2nd East||2.51 (27th)||2.35 (4th)||28.7 (20th)|
|2007-08||Anaheim||4th West||2.40 (28th)||2.24 (2nd)||27.3 (25th)|
|2008-09||NY Rangers||7th East||2.44 (28th)||2.58 (6th)||32.4 (7th)|
|2009-10||Boston||6th East||2.39 (30th)||2.33 (2nd)||31.7 (7th)|
|2010-11||Montreal||6th East||2.60 (22nd)||2.51 (8th)||31.7 (9th)|
|2011-12||Los Angeles||8th West||2.29 (29th)||2.07 (2nd)||30.6 (11th)|
So what does this say about the relationship between shots, goals, and making the playoffs?
It’s possible to make the playoffs with a terrible offense. Scoring goals helps to win games, but at the end of the day it’s really only scoring more than your opponent that matters. In fact, it’s routine for at least a few teams from the very bottom of the league in offense to make the playoffs. But it doesn’t really work the other way around…
- An excellent defense is the primary reason terrible offenses make the playoffs. In three of the cases presented here, the team with the worst offense to make the playoffs in a given year had the league’s second-highest-rated defense as measured in goals allowed per game. In another case (Calgary ’03-04) the team had the best defense in the league. The other teams with terrible offenses to make the playoffs finished fourth, sixth, and eighth in goals allowed in their respective years. If you can’t score yourself, you’re going to need to be very good at stopping the other team from scoring. Still, there’s a cutoff…
- It’s very difficult to make the playoffs without scoring about 2.4 goals per game. Only two teams in the last seven years (Boston ’09-10 and Los Angeles ’11-12) have made the playoffs without scoring at least 2.40 goals per game. They were 30th and 29th in the league in their respective years. Score less than that and your chances of making the playoffs are not very good.
- Even the worst offensive performers that make the playoffs average at least 27 shots per game. The two cases here where a team was in the bottom 20 percent of the league in shots forced still saw them firing at least 27.3 shots on goal each game. In the more recent seasons the worst offense to make the playoffs has forced at least 30 shots per game, though there are some teams (like last year’s Nashville Predators, for example) who have scored more often on fewer shots per game.
So, obviously it’s possible to get to the playoffs without scoring as much as everybody else, but you still have to shoot the puck a fair bit. A case study in what happens when you don’t shoot often enough is the Minnesota Wild, a team that has finished 30th in the league in shots forced per game for four years straight and five of the last seven. The Wild’s offensive output in goals scored has varied during that time because shooting percentage fluctuates quite a bit from year to year, but even in the best of those seasons the team failed to make the playoffs. The only two seasons when the Wild didn’t finish last in the league in shots forced were the same two seasons when they qualified for the postseason.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE NASHVILLE PREDATORS
The best way for the Nashville Predators to address this team weakness is for everyone to stop looking for the perfect pass and start taking shots whenever they have the chance. A lot of these shots are going to be saved, but that’s okay. A lot of the passes the Preds are choosing right now instead of shooting are being intercepted by active sticks, but that hasn’t stopped them from choosing the pass. Besides, some of the saves on average shots will result in the goalie freezing the puck for an offensive-zone faceoff. Some will result in a rebound that can be converted by a Nashville player driving to the net. And some (we call them our favorites) will find their way through to the goal. Lots of good things can happen when you put the puck on net.
There’s the big positional picture to look out, too. The more shots you take, the more you attack in your opponent’s zone – and the less you chase the puck in your own. On the flip side, being outshot constantly puts you on the defensive. The less time you spend in your own zone, the less chance the other team has to score.
The Nashville Predators don’t need to lead the league in shots. They don’t even need to reach the current league average of 30 shots per game. They just need to shoot enough to keep their opponents from staying on the attack for most of the game. Doing that will allow some space for the rest to take care of itself.