Last night, Jon Bernier allowed a goal on a shot he’d undoubtedly like to have another go at.
I’ve never played goal, but I suspect there are probably one of these every game or two that makes the goalie a bit nervous. Let’s faceit, pucks are a weird shape, and ice is finicky, so it’s a veritable playground for weird bounces. The goal was probably a combination of things, maybe a bit of a lack of concentration from Bernier, but largely a lot of luck. Realistically, 99 times out of 100, Bernier stops that puck, but there are no certainties, and every puck that goes on target has a probability of going into the back of the net. That said, it wasn’t the first time. Sorry Jon.
That final statement is what I’d like to write about. I think teams largely need to re-think how they think about taking shots.
We’ve all heard the arguments that the dump and chase style of play is antiquated, but we still see it. A player will cross the red line, without much opposition, and simply flip the puck in deep, and skate after it (or the opposite side winger will). In any event, coming up with the puck is kind of a crapshoot, and often, it’s merely giving the opposing defencemen possession.
So why not re-think it bit? Imagine a scenario where a lone forward has the puck. He crosses the red line without either of his wingers and has two opposition defencemen in front of him. Conventional wisdom would probably be, make sure the puck gets in deep, and make sure it doesn’t get turned over at the blue line that could lead to a quick counter-attack.
Take the shot
My contention would be, in the scenario above, put the puck on the net. This would hold particularly true for a slower, less skilled player. (I don’t mean to say that its exclusive to ‘this’ scenario but rather this is an easy one to illustrate my point). Of course, a Crosby, Ovechkin or Datsyuk might be able to skate around a couple of defenders. But, for the most part, in that scenario when the player crosses the red line, he should be thinking about a shot.
With taking that shot, there are four potential outcomes, starting with the worst:
1. The puck deflects off the defenses pads (for example and it results in a quick turnover). Similarly, it takes a deflection and goes over the glass for a neutral zone face-off.
2. A low shot on net gets steered into the corner by the goalie and the attacking player is exactly where he’d been had he just dumped it in, except there was a chance of a goal (albeit a very low one). Similarly, the shooter could miss the net.
3. Player takes a shot and the goalie saves it and covers it up for an offensive zone face-off. For whatever reason, I’ve often heard this talked about as a bad outcome. In my mind, it’s a great outcome. The shot forced a save, the puck is a couple of hundred feet from your own goal, and provided the attacking team has a decent face-off man (this is a whole other article in itself), then there is about a 50% chance of getting the puck back (and maybe getting a second chance on net).
4. A goal. Obviously, there is a low probability of this event occurring, but it’s definitely not zero. If the puck was just going to be dumped in anyways, why not have a go at it.
It’s kind of like when you buy a lotto ticket and someone says “The chances of winning are SO low” to which I usually reply, “I don’t know what the chances are of winning, but I DO know what the chances are of winning if I don’t buy a ticket”.
Really, take the shot!
So take that shot. Take it low and make the goalie go down, making him do a bit of work. Or fire it high and make it awkward for him to save. Or flip it and let it bounce between the hash marks and make him sweat a bit. All of these, I feel, are better options than giving it away in the corner. Because let’s be realistic, most dump-ins are just that, approved give-aways. It’s boring to watch because it’s all about loss mitigation, not positive play.
There are few certainties in hockey, or any sport, but one thing is certain, while every shot obviously won’t result in a goal, not shooting will never result in a goal.
Thanks for reading, please do leave a comment if you think I’m wrong or right (unlikely). I’ll do my best to reply.
P.S. Bernier isn’t the only Leaf to let in a long-ranger!
Economist/epidemiologist interested in the intersection between sports analytics (advanced stats) and intuition.