Of all the free advice Jason Spezza receives from hockey fans in this region, none is more direct than that of his 20-month-old daughter, Sophia.
“Shoot, daddy, shoot!” she says.
“My daughter doesn’t know anything about hockey,” Spezza says, laughing, when I ask him about the Ottawa Senators shooting philosophy, “but she comes to the game and she hears everybody yelling, “Shoot! Shoot!”
Sophia’s daddy is shooting this season. So are his teammates. Occasionally, they even hit the net.
But there they are, third in the entire NHL under the category of missed shots, with 764. Prior to Saturday’s games, the Winnipeg Jets led the way with 773 targets missed. The Los Angeles Kings were next at 772.
On the evidence, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Last season, the Senators hit the net but missed the playoffs. While finishing 13th in the Eastern Conference, Ottawa was merely 23rd in missed shots, but didn’t shoot nearly as much under Cory Clouston as the team does under new head coach Paul MacLean (9th overall, with 31.1 shots per game).
In 2010-11, the Senators were 22nd in the NHL in shots per game, averaging 29, while giving up 31.2. In other words, on average, Ottawa was outshot nightly about 31-29. Now, they’re still outshot, but barely, 32.1 to 31.1.
No giant leap is required to figure out where MacLean, a six-year member of Mike Babcock’s coaching staff in Detroit, developed his shoot-first, ask-questions-later, philosophy. Last season, the Red Wings were the worst offenders when it came to missing the net – they didn’t apologize for 1,115 missed shots on their way to a third place finish in the Western Conference with 104 points. Detroit was second in the NHL with shots on goal, at 33.6 per game, behind San Jose Sharks whopping 34.5 shots per game.
The Sharks are right there again this season, leading the NHL with 34.8 shots per game through 56 games.
What’s the theory? Scoring chances start with the simple act of directing a puck toward the goal, whether the shot actually counts as a shot on goal or not. Sounds like something so basic a novice minor league coach might suggest it to a group of 8-year-olds, but MacLean has been preaching it hard, all season long with his young Senators team.
“I’m a big proponent of — if you don’t shoot the puck you don’t create any offence,” MacLean says. “Yes, we’d like to hit the net more, but if we’re taking the shots at least we’re making the attempt and we can create something off it.”
On some nights, this scattergun approach sees pucks flying all around the Scotiabank Place end boards, and Spezza doesn’t need to be told the errant shots often fly off his own Easton stick. With 88 missed shots, Spezza ranks 4th overall in the NHL, behind first place – yes, you guessed it, Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals with 100.
“I miss a lot because I shoot high,” Spezza says. “I try to put it under the bar sometimes, so I probably contribute quite a bit to our missed shots.”
So do defenceman Erik Karlsson and forward Milan Michalek. Karlsson is sixth in the NHL with 79 missed shots and 14th in shots on goal, with 192.
Michalek is 23rd in the league with 71 missed shots, but when he does hit the net, he really hits the net, as in the mesh. Among NHL players with at least 100 shots on goal, Michalek is seventh in shooting accuracy at 16.1 per cent. He has 155 shots in total.
Remember years back when Spezza had to be told to shoot more? (His father was among the chorus). This season he is tied at 24th with 179 shots, or 2.98 per game, which is still slightly off his career high of three shots per game in 2008-09, when he put 246 shots on goal, just behind his then-linemate Dany Heatley, with 258 shots.
It’s interesting to compare the accuracy of Ottawa’s top forwards. While Spezza shoots a lot more than captain Daniel Alfredsson (179 to 139) their scoring accuracy is almost identical, a healthy 14.4 per cent for the 20-goal man Alfredsson and 14.0 for Spezza, who is tied with Michalek for the team scoring lead at 25 goals. Before Saturday’s games, Spezza was fourth in the NHL with 63 points.
Shooting percentage, of course, only measures the scoring accuracy of shots that were on the net, not wide. Alfredsson tends to miss the net less often than his teammates, with just 47 under the MS category, ranking him 111th in the league among errant shooters. The captain isn’t entirely sold on all this blasting away.
“Sometimes I think we might shoot too much, but if you ask the coaches, they think we don’t shoot enough,” Alfredsson says. “We shoot not just to score but to get rebounds. I think a lot of teams are doing that more and more. And if you have the wide guy driving, even if you miss the net, he usually gets it.”
The message from MacLean is that the shooting team has the best shot at retrieving loose pucks in front of the net.
“The other team is collapsing in, everybody is going to the house, and pucks fly off,” Spezza says. “The attacking team is usally first on it. Dave Tippett talked a lot about that at the world championships. On the power play, he just wanted bam-shot, bam-shot, all the time. He felt the same thing, if you shoot it, you’re going to retrieve it.”
NHL MISSED SHOT LEADERS
MS SOG G S%
1. Alex Ovechkin Wash 100 204 24 11.7
2. James Neal Pitt 90 235 29 12.3
3. Joe Pavelski SJ 90 182 22 12.1
4. Jason Spezza Ott 88 179 25 14.0
5. Anze Kopitar LA 81 168 17 10.1
6. Erik Karlsson Ott 79 192 10 5.2