It’s the oldest lesson in the book. I can still hear the voice of my minor hockey coach echoing off the empty cinderblock walls of South Windsor Arena: “If you don’t shoot the puck, you can’t score!” This did not mean that you should take the puck coast-to-coast every shift and take a weak shot from the blue line. It was more a message about capitalizing on your opportunities.
As I watched the Detroit Red Wings in their game against the New York Islanders on Sunday night, I couldn’t help but remember that old lesson. It’s something that Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill should be preaching to his team this season. They currently rank 28th in the league in SF/60 and 29th in the league in Shot Differential per Game. If there’s one thing the Red Wings need to do more of, it’s shoot.
In fact, the Red Wings shooting this season has been their worst in the years since they last won the Stanley Cup.
In addition to this being a team low, it’s the second worst shot differential in the league. The only team with a worst differential than them is the Arizona Coyotes whose -6.9 SDiff is worse than abysmal.
So what’s going on with the Red Wings? Why aren’t they shooting more?
Possession Is Important
Well, for one, they need to have the puck to be able to shoot it. Here are the ten worst Corsi For percentages in the league.
With the fourth worst CF% in the league, the Red Wings are still experiencing a fair amount of luck.
Their PDO is higher than the league average which is driven primarily by their higher-than-average save percentage. It’s no secret that the team has over-relied on good goaltending this season. Jimmy Howard is having a year that is over and above what he’s achieved in the past. Their goaltending was the reason for their six game winning streak early in the season. Since Howard has been hurt and Mrazek is not standing on his head, the team has lost a fair amount of games.
Their shooting percentage, however, is right in line with league average. What this tells us is that when they shoot, they are scoring as much as the rest of the league.
For further proof of the team spending too much time in their own zone, one has to look no further than their faceoff stats. While the team’s FO% ranks 7th in the league, they are taking more faceoffs in the defensive zone than they are the offensive.
Only 30% of their total faceoffs take place in the offensive zone. The 34% that takes place in the defensive zone is a whole two points higher than the league average. And how are you supposed to get good shots off if you’re not taking enough faceoffs in the offensive zone?
So, the team is not driving possession and relying too much on their goaltenders to keep them in games. There are, however, certain players on the team who drive puck control and shots on goal better than others.
Dylan Larkin leads this team in SF/60, but Dylan Larkin has started the last three games on the fourth line with Drew Miller and Steve Ott, who rank 19th and 22nd on the team respectively in the same category. In addition to this, Miller and Ott rank 16th and 14th in CF%. Why is Dylan Larkin, one of the team’s better possession players and most frequent shooter, playing on the fourth line?
At least Anthony Mantha, team leader in CF% and ranked 2nd in SF/60 is getting time on the top line with Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Tatar. And it’s worked out really well for Mantha, scoring six points in eleven games and looking like one of the most exciting players on the team.
So What Should They Do?
The Red Wings need to go back to the basics: just shoot the puck. Shots create rebounds and rebounds create opportunities. Opportunities build momentum and momentum wins games. But in order to shoot, they need to be controlling the puck in the offensive zone. With all of the line juggling that goes on, it’s hard for players to really build chemistry and trust in each other’s game.
A little bit of consistency in the lines will go a long way for Jeff Blashill and the Red Wings. Maybe they need my minor hockey coach to remind them of the advice he gave a bunch of twelve year olds back in the ‘90s. Of course this time, he could use a few more expletives.