Shot quality revisited: Going to the net

The Hurricanes have been an extremely frustrating team to watch this year. There are some nights where they look like a team that can contend for a playoff spot and even when they don't win, they've been able to earn points in games where they've had to dig themselves out of an early hole. Still, the team's play has been uneven as a whole and the Canes now find themselves sitting outside of the playoff picture after dropping their last two games. For fans of the team, the Hurricanes streaky play in general has been tough to watch and the most frustrating part about them has undeniably been their offense, or lack thereof.

Sunday night, I dived into this by looking at which players were shooting the puck the most and which ones were creating the most scoring chances. It was meant to show which players weren't scoring due to bad shooting luck (it happens) and which ones were doing nothing offensively (see most of the bottom-six). My stance was that players like Alex Semin, Eric Staal and a couple others should start to score more as long as they continue to create chances at their current rate while others (Ruutu, Nash, Lindholm) really need to do more. SInce then, the Canes have played one game and they were shut out by the Calgary Flames, getting only 23 total shots on goal. So regression clearly hasn't come around for them yet, but there is plenty of hockey left to be played.

The common criticism of the Hurricanes offense has remained the same even after their five game win streak, though. They take a lot of "bad shots" and are "afraid to go to the front of the net." I'll concede that the Hurricanes seem to take a lot of shots further away from the goal than most and they have trouble getting to the rebounds, but I think the problem stems from them being a mediocre possession team and spending more time chasing pucks down in the offensive zone and trying to set up plays, most of which are unsuccessful and result in a shot that either gets blocked or misses the net. 

A player's chances of scoring increase when they take shots closer to the goal, but I kind of hate the mindset that "net front presence" is the answer to team's scoring woes. Mostly because I've seen Hurricanes players pass up a few opportunities to create chances in favor of trying to get closer to the net or passing it to someone who might be in a better position. They also usually have someone driving the net but never score on any of these plays because they either can't get to the rebound in time or it just jumps over the player's stick. People only notice "net front presence" when it works, but ignore the times that it doesn't result in anything. For the Hurricanes, it's mostly been the latter.

Don't get me wrong, there's a few times the Hurricanes have scored by going to the net, it's how Jordan Staal gets most of his goals and that's how his line with Patrick Dwyer & Nathan Gerbe create most of their chances. They haven't exactly scored a lot of goals, though. Ruutu has also struggled to score despite shooting a lot from close range and the same goes for Riley Nash, who rarely shoots the puck at all. The whole "go to the net" strategy sounds easy enough for fans, but it really doesn't mean anything if you're a team that struggles to control play in the offensive zone, which the Hurricanes have for most of the year, it becomes a moot point.

However, if you were to ask Hurricanes fans to map where all of their shots have come from this season, it would probably look something like this. Thus you have a lot of people complaining about how no one on the team goes to the net and that the Hurricanes scoring woes would be fixed if they start to do that. Using Greg Sinclair's Super Shot Search, I looked at the shot maps of every team in the NHL to see how the Hurricanes compare.

Using shot location to sum up shot quality can be a little misleading because the scorekeepers that the NHL employs are a tad unreliable to say the very least. Some buildings scorer's have no idea where shots come from or when they happen, so take this data with a grain of salt. Regardless, here's the Hurricanes shot distances compared to the rest of the NHL:

Team Shots Avg. Dist 0-10  10-20  20 -30 30 ft Sh%
Montréal Canadiens 1441 35.1 13.1% 20.3% 13.7% 52.9% 8.6%
Buffalo Sabres 1271 36.2 12.4% 20.8% 12.0% 54.8% 6.3%
San Jose Sharks 1793 34 12.2% 20.4% 15.7% 51.6% 8.6%
Dallas Stars 1544 34.2 11.9% 20.1% 15.5% 52.6% 8.9%
New York Rangers 1673 33 11.7% 23.4% 17.0% 47.8% 7.5%
Chicago Blackhawks 1735 33.6 11.5% 22.4% 15.4% 50.6% 10.6%
Toronto Maple Leafs 1413 34.3 11.3% 21.3% 15.1% 52.3% 9.5%
Winnipeg Jets 1590 35.9 11.0% 19.4% 14.3% 55.3% 8.5%
Nashville Predators 1494 35.8 10.7% 17.9% 13.9% 57.5% 8.0%
New York Islanders 1552 32.1 10.6% 27.3% 17.1% 45.0% 8.9%
Calgary Flames 1336 35.4 10.5% 18.0% 13.9% 57.6% 8.2%
Minnesota Wild 1435 35.5 10.5% 20.3% 15.5% 53.7% 8.4%
Columbus Blue Jackets 1363 35.4 10.3% 21.9% 13.7% 54.1% 9.8%
Detroit Red Wings 1466 36.3 9.8% 17.3% 16.3% 56.7% 8.6%
Los Angeles Kings 1603 36.2 9.5% 19.7% 15.5% 55.4% 7.7%
Philadelphia Flyers 1464 38.5 9.4% 17.2% 14.2% 59.2% 8.6%
Edmonton Oilers 1388 32.6 9.4% 22.3% 19.7% 48.7% 9.4%
St. Louis Blues 1418 35 9.3% 19.5% 18.5% 52.7% 12.1%
Vancouver Canucks 1578 37.5 9.2% 19.4% 15.6% 55.8% 8.2%
Anaheim Ducks 1658 33.2 8.9% 26.1% 16.6% 48.4% 10.4%
Carolina Hurricanes 1460 36.5 8.7% 18.8% 14.5% 57.9% 7.9%
Colorado Avalanche 1410 34.6 8.2% 23.7% 16.2% 51.8% 9.9%
Pittsburgh Penguins 1536 34.6 8.1% 21.5% 16.1% 54.2% 10.3%
Ottawa Senators 1636 37.5 8.1% 17.8% 13.1% 60.9% 8.6%
New Jersey Devils 1324 34.2 8.1% 22.3% 16.7% 52.9% 9.0%
Florida Panthers 1454 35 7.6% 22.3% 17.3% 52.9% 7.7%
Phoenix Coyotes 1576 37.5 7.4% 21.4% 12.9% 58.3% 8.9%
Washington Capitals 1481 36.9 7.3% 17.6% 16.3% 58.7% 9.2%
Boston Bruins 1481 38.7 7.2% 19.4% 13.8% 59.6% 9.3%
Tampa Bay Lightning 1462 34.4 4.5% 25.0% 18.5% 51.9% 9.4%
Average   35.2 9.6% 20.9% 15.5% 54%  

The people clamoring for net front presence may have a point here because the Hurricanes take only 8.7% of their shots from within 10 feet. I mentioned earlier that they have a lot of trouble with generating and getting to rebounds and that is reflected here. They also don't take a lot of shots from 10-30 feet away, which is roughly where the slot/home plate area is in front of the goal. So those who say that the Canes need to take "better shots" might also have a point. My stance on the team's territorial struggles still stands, though. There are also some interesting things to point out on this chart. 

The Buffalo Sabres, who are starved for offense, take a higher percentage of their shots from within 10 feet than all but one team in the NHL. They also take an average amount of their shots from the slot area and a below average amount of shots from long-range. The New York Rangers also have this problem and so do the Nashville Predators, the Calgary Flames and the Minnesota Wild, albeit to a lesser extent.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have a team like the Boston Bruins, who take a lot of long shots and have an above average shooting percentage. The Colorado Avalanche have also had no problems scoring despite taking even fewer shots from close range than the Hurricanes. Pittsburgh, Washington, Tampa Bay and Anaheim also fall into this category.  Some of it is good/bad shooting luck, but it goes beyond generating shots from close range. "Going to the net" doesn't work for every team.

It's a simple strategy, but it's also fairly easy for opposing teams to shut down. If your game plan is to just drive the net and get in the goalie's face, other teams can negate this by protecting the crease-area, blocking shots and clearing away rebounds. In past games, I've said that the Canes forecheck is often way too deliberate and easy for teams to shut down because they create most of their offense by taking shots from long range and having players drive the net. To no one's surprise, this hasn't worked and the Canes are starving for goals now.

So how do you get around this? Personally, I would like to see more creativity in the offensive zone. They don't generate a lot of shots from the slot area and they might be able to fix this with some better puck movement and passing, both of which the Canes have been very poor in this season. They should also be a much better transition team than they've been so far, but they seem to play a lot more conservative and are much slower coming up the ice than they're capable of. I was hoping adding John-Michael Liles would help them improve in this area and while he has been good so far, other players like Ron Hainsey & Justin Faulk could help out by jumping into the rush more often than they have thus far. There comes a risk with this type of playing style, though but with nearly 58% of the Canes shots coming from 30+ feet away, it wouldn't hurt to have more guys jump into the play to open things up a little. It's one of the reasons why Andrej Sekera has been so successful here.

Another thing to point out is that the Canes have been running cold for most of the year no matter where they shoot the puck from. The league average shooting percentage for shots within 10 feet this year is 19.4% and the Canes are well below that mark. Same goes for when they shoot the puck from further distances.

Team 0-10 Sh% 10-20 Sh% 20-30 Sh% 30+ ft Sh%
St. Louis Blues 28.0% 21.0% 18.3% 5.8%
Columbus Blue Jackets 25.5% 16.1% 11.8% 4.1%
Chicago Blackhawks 25.0% 19.8% 9.7% 4.6%
Edmonton Oilers 24.6% 14.6% 11.7% 3.4%
Ottawa Senators 24.1% 14.7% 12.1% 4.2%
Pittsburgh Penguins 24.0% 21.2% 10.5% 4.7%
Minnesota Wild 22.0% 15.1% 13.5% 2.9%
Dallas Stars 21.9% 13.9% 9.2% 4.1%
Tampa Bay Lightning 21.2% 13.4% 15.9% 5.1%
Calgary Flames 20.7% 17.5% 11.3% 4.0%
Phoenix Coyotes 20.5% 19.3% 12.3% 4.1%
Washington Capitals 20.4% 20.7% 14.5% 5.1%
Boston Bruins 19.8% 19.8% 7.3% 5.1%
New Jersey Devils 19.6% 14.9% 9.0% 4.6%
Anaheim Ducks 19.6% 18.1% 12.4% 5.4%
League Average 19.4% 16.8% 11.7% 4.1%
Philadelphia Flyers 18.1% 17.1% 14.4% 3.7%
Buffalo Sabres 17.7% 14.4% 9.2% 1.7%
Winnipeg Jets 17.7% 16.2% 10.1% 4.4%
Montréal Canadiens 17.5% 15.4% 13.7% 3.0%
Florida Panthers 17.3% 19.4% 9.2% 3.3%
Detroit Red Wings 16.8% 19.0% 16.3% 2.8%
Vancouver Canucks 16.6% 17.6% 7.7% 4.3%
New York Islanders 16.5% 15.3% 8.6% 4.3%
Colorado Avalanche 16.4% 17.4% 12.7% 4.9%
New York Rangers 16.3% 13.3% 8.1% 3.5%
Carolina Hurricanes 15.7% 14.2% 13.7% 3.1%
San Jose Sharks 15.5% 16.9% 12.4% 4.2%
Los Angeles Kings 15.1% 14.6% 11.3% 4.2%
Toronto Maple Leafs 15.1% 18.6% 14.0% 5.4%
Nashville Predators 13.8% 15.3% 11.6% 3.1%

Something fishy's going on here. Carolina has had a hard time generating shots from scoring areas, but they are also getting a little unlucky when they do generate chances, so they shouldn't be this poor offensively. That said, there's a lot the Hurricanes can do to improve their offense. They need more shots in general but they also need to be more creative with the puck, open up room on the ice with better puck movement and shoot to create rebounds. Adding another finisher in the top-six would also help but we'll have to see if that ever comes around. The team's territorial play has improved, but now it's time that the Hurricanes focused on getting more pucks to the net because that is still a big problem.