Patrik Elias is not only about to add one more shot and shot through to his total, but also a goal. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
One of the biggest cliches in hockey is the Wayne Gretzky statement, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." This is certainly true. Just witness the fourteen-plus minutes the Devils spent in the second period of Game 4 without a single shot on net. The offense essentially died while the Los Angeles Kings were able to get pressure with possession. However, while the Devils went shotless, the Kings only got three shots on net in the same time frame. You also miss 100% of the shots that aren't on target.
A day after the Devils' 3-1 win over the Kings in Game 4, I started to think about misses and shots on net. Combined, they're known as Fenwick events - a means to measure possession based on the idea that attempting to get unblocked shots on net requires players to be in offensive positions. Ideally, a team that wants to win should get more shots through to the net than their opposition. While the Devils won Game 4, the Kings did enjoy more offensive opportunities because they had the puck more often. Their problem is that they had so many misses that it ended up undercutting their possession to a degree. The Devils can't count on that happening again in Game 5.
It also got me to thinking about who on the Devils have been getting these kinds of events. It's reasonable to think that the top shooters, Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, would lead the list. What about the rest of the skaters? Who's getting shots through and how much per game? Moreover, have they been more successful in the postseason than in the regular season? After the jump, I have two charts that show who's improved, who hasn't, and how often the players are getting unblocked attempts.Notes: All numbers come from NHL.com. I'm also using shots and misses from all situations. I'm interested in how often the skaters are generating these kinds of attempts rather than whether they're doing it at evens. Lastly, I'm trying something new with a term by calling these attempts shots through instead of Fenwick events. Maybe it'll be clearer for some.
Legend: GP = games played; MS = missed shot; S = shot on goal; ST = shot through; %MS = percent of missed shots out of sum of misses and shots; S/GP = shots per game played; ST/GP = shots through per game played
These are the numbers I've pulled for both the regular season and the playoffs. I've highlighted Stephen Gionta, Jacob Josefson, Adam Larsson, Henrik Tallinder, and Tim Setito in gray to denote that the player has seen such limited action in either the playoffs or the regular season. I wouldn't make any conclusions about those players; I've included them just for the sake of completeness.
I also highlighted Peter Harrold and Travis Zajac in a different color to denote that both players only played for a small part of the regular season. They've been regulars in the postseason and at points in the regular season; unlike those highlighted in gray. The small population is enough to be wary of making a sweeping conclusion on them.
Lastly, there's David Clarkson in yellow. He's the standout player on this chart and not for a good reason. He was one of three Devils to put up 300 or more shots through in the regular season, yet he only has 51 in the postseason. To put this in better perspective, here's a chart of the playoff minus regular season differences for percentage of shots missed, shots through per game, and shots per game.
Clarkson is the only Devil skater who has seen the shots through and shots per game rates drop by over one. This is evidence that Clarkson has been disappointing in this postseason. He certainly got hot shooting the puck in the regular season as he put up 30 goals. However, what made him dangerous was that he would attempt shoot the puck as much as he did. Clarkson can be considered as a puck-hog at times; but that third line was built to account for that. Even if he wasn't scoring, he was able to go up against weaker competition and keep up the offense. I believe that's some value.
That hasn't happened in the playoffs. Clarkson's averaging of one fewer shot per game and one fewer shot through per game compared to the regular season. He's had a few shotless games and he's settled for long shots that are easier for the goaltender than trying to drive in closer for something more dangerous. For a player who's known to play with swag, go for wraparounds, and generally pester guys down low, Clarkson has increasingly been a non-factor on many of his shifts. Sure, he has nine assists, but if he's not generating shots, it makes the third line and the overall offensive depth that much less threatening. That third line also hasn't helped that Alexei Ponikarovsky has dropped off in getting shots through, too. If either guy can take more initiative on offense and fire some more pucks, then they could have a chance at getting more offense going.
Speaking of players with drop offs in these per game rates, look at Petr Sykora. I knew his underlying numbers were quite good, but by my eye, I felt he was more of a passenger in this postseason. The not-small drop in shots per game and shots through per game support that notion. I recognize that Sykora still has a good shot, but he's usually not in position to use it more often. Without that, then he's not really contributing much. He's back in the lineup now, so I hope he'll try to make a point of it to get more rubber towards the net.
The other player to have seen a large drop-off from the regular season to the playoffs is Ilya Kovalchuk. Rather, his shots per game has dropped off significantly. Kovalchuk has missed the net more often in the postseason compared to the regular season, as indicated by the about 9.7 percent jump in missed shots. His shots through per game rate has suffered but not nearly as bad as the shots per game. I could take this as evidence of his currently hurt state. Fewer shots through and shots would mean he's not getting into more positions for shots, which could be hampered by his condition. That all said, I'm not as irritated with this drop off like with Clarkson because Kovalchuk is still far and away higher than almost all of the other Devils. He's still at a 3 shots per game and 5 shots through per game. Only Zach Parise can claim better numbers than him.
Speaking of, here's some praise for Parise. There are times where I wish the captain would be more visible, but in the big picture, he's certainly putting the effort in. He leads the Devils in shots and shots through in the postseason, and his rates in both are considerable improvements over the regular season. Incidentally, he's also seen a large increase in missed shot percentage like Kovalchuk. That may explain why the increase in attempts hasn't always translated into goals. I want him to keep going at these rates as he's not going to get goals without continuing to get unblocked attempts with the puck.
When you look at the rates for Parise and Kovalchuk, it's clear that these two have carried the offense among the skaters. Patrik Elias has certainly helped in terms of shots per game and shots through per game. Like Parise, he's been getting more unblocked attempts than during the regular season. Unlike Parise, he hasn't had a large increase in missed shots percentage. That has led to a higher improvement in the rate of shots per game than the captain. While this is good, it hasn't always led to production. Elias has slumped in the postseason in terms of points, which is a bit of a surprise since he finished tenth in the league in scoring in 2011-12. However, like Parise, I want to keep getting unblocked attempts as that's the path to production. He got a goal in Game 4 against L.A., maybe his luck is about to turn around.
There also have been some nice positive bumps from Dainius Zubrus and Ryan Carter, who also have been more accurate with their shots through. It's all the more reason why I'd like them to try and get more shots on net. However, they aren't as impressive as some of the defensemen on the team. While Marek Zidlicky has been fading in recent games, his postseason performance has shown him to be more accurate with his shots through and more prolific with shots than he was in the regular season. Bryce Salvador has been a surprisingly productive player (3 goals, 10 assists) in this postseason. He's also been more active on offense, as he is now averaging at least a shot per game and over one and a half shots through per game compared to the regular season. Mark Fayne has enjoyed a small increase as well without a terribly large increase in missed shots percentage.
I will specifically point out Andy Greene in this chart because he's off target. Literally, half of his shots through have been misses in this postseason. He wasn't all that accurate in the regular season, but he unfortunately stepped up with the high and/or wide ones in the postseason. If only he found the net more, then he could have been a more positive player.
Speaking in general, I will say that I found that the percentage of misses have increased across both defensemen and forwards. The defensemen had a higher percentage of missed shots than forwards in the playoffs (33.05% to 27.76%) and the regular season (30.05% to 24.55%) . I understand those values since they're usually shooting from distance and often with traffic in the way. It's also interesting that the percentage has gone up for both groups in the postseason compared to the regular season. Maybe the Devils are pulling a few more shots, hoping to find a hole only to find the glass or boards? It hasn't hurt that Greene and Anton Volchenkov have contributed significantly to this "cause."
Lastly, I want to reiterate the finding that only Clarkson saw an change in either the shots per game and shots through per game rate that was over one. There were six Devils with a shots per game change of over 0.5 per game and there were eight with a shots through per game change of over 0.5 per game. However, none were as drastic as Clarkson. It suggests to me that the players are who they are from the regular season. For example, Kovalchuk's rates have dropped the second most on the team, but he's still ahead of most everyone else except for Parise. For a second example, Parise would be solidly above everyone else even if he didn't see an increase in his rates. That makes Clarkson's drop stand out more in my view.
I'm hoping that the team as a whole tries to get more shots through the Kings' defense in Game 5. In terms of possession at evens, the Devils have only been positive in regulation of Game 2 and when the score effects kicked in during Game 3. In terms of total shots, the Devils have had totals of 17, 33, 22, and 24 in the four games against the Kings so far. As good as the Kings have been in the neutral zone and in their own end, the Devils really need to make a point of it of getting more attempts more often. I'm not saying they should fire blindly and rack up shots through due to a ton of misses. That didn't work at all in Game 3. A few are OK, an excessive amount is not.
What I am saying is that they need to improve their puck movement, don't just dump the puck away unless there's a chance to win the puck back, and - most of all - don't pass up open looks on Jonathan Quick. I'm expecting Parise, Kovalchuk, and (to a lesser extent) Elias to do what they have been doing and put up several attempts. Hopefully, the rest of the Devils skaters can support them with more attempts than the one-to-three they've averaged. Ideally, that would mean more shots, and with some luck, more goals. We've seen some good improvements for some players compared to the regular season. We've seen some numbers drop-off. For Game 5, it's time to step it up.
After looking at these numbers and reading this post, what do you make of shots through by the team? Are you surprised that so many Devils have seen an increase in missed shots percentage? Who disappoints you the most from the values in these charts? Who do you think needs to step up and fast? Who, from this chart, are you pleased with their current rates? Please leave your thoughts on shots, missed shots, shots through, and other relevant performances by the Devils in the comments. Thank you for reading.