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By the Numbers: The Defensive Shooting Quandary

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The Hurricanes blue line logs shots on net at one of the highest rates in the NHL, yet defensive scoring production is very low. What needs to change?

With three shots in Sunday night’s Whalers Night win over the Boston Bruins, Dougie Hamilton hit 200 consecutive games with a shot on goal, the longest active streak in the NHL. Three more in the Carolina Hurricanes’ loss to the Capitals last night extended that streak to 201 games. He’s logged 119 shots in total this season for an average of 3.31 shots per game, yet he’s only scored three times.

The problem isn’t unique to Hamilton. Justin Faulk has tallied 105 shots on goal and has found the net only twice this year. Hamilton has eclipsed 10 goals in a season four times, while Faulk has done it three times. Both carry strong reputations as offensive defensemen in the NHL, yet this season they’re both shooting under 3%. Jaccob Slavin has tallied 74 shots and scored three times. That’s better, but he’s still posting a shooting percentage of just 4%.

In watching the Hurricanes this season the eye test tends to suggest that defensemen are shooting from the points too frequently, often with minimal traffic in front. That trend is backed up by the fact that two defensemen — Hamilton and Faulk — are in the top three in shots recorded this season for the Hurricanes (the other shot leader is Sebastian Aho). The only other team in the NHL in which two defensemen are in the top three in shooting is in San Jose, where Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns are facing similar scoring woes despite peppering opposing nets at a rate of nearly 3.5 shots per night.

The only defensive corps that is outshooting the Canes as a whole this season is Burns’ and Karlsson’s Sharks, who have tallied 437 shots from the blue line. That barely eclipses the Canes’ 426, while most backends around the league have logged shots in the high 200’s to mid 300’s. The Predators defensemen have recorded 396 shots on net, but it helps when your top pairing offensive defensemen in Roman Josi has tallied a league leading 139 of them.

It’s interesting that two of the most highly-regarded offensive blue liners in Burns and Karlsson are both posting a shooting percentage lower than 4%. They’ve combined for just seven goals this season despite 258 shots on target. I think the difference in this case is that they’re getting pucks to the net, but their primary goal isn’t to score on every shot. Rather, they try to generate a rebound or redirection that in turn makes things difficult for the opposing goaltender. This is reflected in their assist tallies, where they’ve combined for 62 assists before the halfway point this season. Faulk and Hamilton, by contrast, have combined for just 17 helpers.

Despite being the only other NHL defensive corps getting pucks on net at the same rate as the Sharks, the Canes’ scoring production is significantly lower. I wouldn’t expect for the Canes’ premier offensive defensemen in Hamilton and Faulk to keep up with Burns and Karlsson in offensive numbers, but a combined five goals and 17 assists thus far isn’t enough given that they’re shooting at such a high rate.

Maybe they need to exercise better shot selection. But I get the impression that they’re being coached to get shots to the net at a high volume from the point. And I really don’t think that they should stop doing that — most offensive D-men around the league are shooting at similar, if slightly lower, rates.

It seems apparent that Hamilton and Faulk would enjoy much better results if they were able to force goalies into a save with more red jerseys in front of the net. This would generate those second and third chance opportunities that could move the needle forward for a Hurricanes team scoring at the fourth lowest rate in the NHL.