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How Important is the "Shots on Goal" Stat?

During the end of season evaluation for coach Paul Maurice, I mentioned that the Hurricanes needed to improve upon their "shots on goal against" stat.  Since this is a team related stat and it was rated the worst in the NHL last season, I placed this as a negative aspect regarding the coach's performance.

In the comments, one of our most  knowledgeable and respected community members made the valid point that "scoring chances" was a more important stat and that "shots against" was overrated.  While I agreed that the "scoring chances" stat was more valid, I disagreed that "shots against" was overrated or unimportant. 

We agreed that someday it would make for a good topic of discussion, so let's talk about it today.

Coincidentally, Carolyn and I noticed an article from a couple of weeks ago exploring that very topic.  It seems the Edmonton Oilers had a similar problem last season and one of the writers from the Edmonton Journal wrote a corresponding article entitled, "The Elephant in the Room."

Edmonton Journal - The Elephant in the Room

In the article, the writer does some extended research to see if the "shots against" stat correlates to winning or losing.  I thought that I would do some similar research to see how the results turned out for the Canes.

First up, let's look at average "shots for" per game along with average "shots against", and compare those numbers with total "goals scored" and "goals against" over the past six years. 



Average Average Diff Total Total Diff
Shots Shots Goals Goals
For Against For Against
2011 30.7 33.2 -2.5 236 239 -3
2010 29.3 31.4 -2.1 230 256 -26
2009 32.6 29.5 3.1 239 226 13
2008 32.5 28.9 3.6 252 249 3
2007 31.2 28.5 2.7 241 253 -12
2006 31.1 30.5 0.6 294 260 34

Of course, great or poor goaltending can skew these results, as we saw last season when Cam Ward made more saves than any other goalie in the league and had the best save percentage of his career.  But even then, the Canes still allowed more goals than they scored. Things could have been much worse if Ward was not at the top of his game.

In five of the six years tracked, the difference in the team's scoring results matched the difference in their shot totals.  Meaning, if they allowed more shots than they took, they usually allowed more goals than they scored.  The odd year out was in 2007 when John Grahame and Ward both posted .897 save percentages. 

Next up, let's look at how many games per year the team had more shots than their opponents versus how many times they were outshot, and compare that with their overall winning (point) percentages for each season.



Games  Games Team 
More Less Winning
Shots Shots %
2011 28 51 0.555
2010 36 44 0.488
2009 52 28 0.591 playoffs
2008 52 27 0.561
2007 49 29 0.537
2006 43 38 0.683 playoffs

Again, there seems to be a correlation here because in most cases, the more times that the Canes outshoot their opponents, the better record they have. 

While "shots on goal" is certainly not the most important stat all by itself, it is a stat which can be a telling symptom for other problems, like time of possession and faceoff percentages, both of which the Canes had trouble with last season.  It would also seem logical that the more shots a team allows, the more quality scoring chances would follow.  We can not tell for sure about that assumption though because the NHL does not officially track scoring chances.  (We will do that this season on Canes Country.)

Another thing that kind of stands out, that I'm sure some of you have already recognized, is that there is a noticeable change in shot differential after the coaching change.  When Laviolette coached here, the team had more shots for, than against, in every season tracked.  That stat would certainly match his apparent "attack first" coaching style.   

When Maurice took over mid stream in 2009, his team finished with more shots, but in the two years since he has had full control, the opposite is true.  While Maurice obviously does not want to purposely allow the opposition more shots on goal than his own team, perhaps his overall coaching philosophy leads to different results? 

It will be very interesting to see what happens this coming season regarding those stats.   

Getting back to the Edmonton Journal article, the Oilers have not been in the playoffs since their deep run in 2006.  They have been outshot in every year since then as well. 

There are exceptions to every rule, and rules for every exception.  Game by game, teams certainly have the ability to win, even though they might have fewer shots than their opponents.  But over a long period of time, it seems like the chances are better to have a successful season if you can consistently get more shots than your competition.

Last season alone, nine of the 12 teams who allowed the most shots in the league, failed to make the playoffs.


((Off topic:  The Hurricanes prospect team will be playing the "Junior Rangers" today at 3 at Traverse City and the game will be televised on the NHL Network.  Carolyn will be hosting an "Open Thread" here starting shortly before the game.  If you can make it, come join in the discussion!)