A Shot Mentality

Martinez dive

“We need that 5-on-5 scoring. We’ve talked about that over the past three years, that it has to be significantly better… I think it starts with our shot attitude, mentality. We’re 27th in the league today. Pucks to the net, I think we’re averaging just a touch above 27 per game, and that has to be the start of it. Get more pucks to the net and better traffic.”
Terry Murray 11.02.2011

This makes me want to beat Terry Murray with a dead horse every time he says it. He should just dictate this paragraph on a voice recorder for Rich Hammond to use every time he needs a quote about more scoring. His inability to adjust his response is not unlike his inability to adjust his offensive strategy.

Let’s examine this concept thoroughly:

  • Currently, the Kings are 21st in the league in 5 on 5 goals scored with 16 in 11 games.
  • The Kings are 19th in the league in shots per game at 28.8.
  • The Kings winning percentage when they outshoot their opponents is .200%.
  • The Kings winning percentage when being outshot is .833%.

This could just be a rare string of coincidences, but the more the trend of losing when outshooting opponents continues, the more I think it’s more than that.

The shots in the Colorado game were 32-16 in favor of the Kings. I believe that’s almost double. That margin suggests that the Kings dominated the Avs. Sure the team played a decent game, but dominated? I don’t think so.

I can recall a number of Colorado odd-man rushes that frightened me while watching the game that got somehow broken up or the shot missed the net; I cannot think of too many of these instances for the Kings. What I do remember about the Kings’ performance is a lot of shots from outside and no real presence in the high scoring area. Why is that?

My theory is that if you shoot the puck every time you get in the offensive zone, there is no possible way to setup a play and find someone in the scoring zone.

We’ve seen this on the power play for years. The Kings don’t move the puck around to find an open man, they move it to get an open shot from the point, hoping that either someone is screening the goaltender or will be there for the rebound. On the power play, this works because you have the defense outnumbered, and are more likely to get to the rebound.

So why aren’t the Kings winning games when outshooting their opponent? Is it because this offensive strategy is so easy to defend?

If you know a team is looking to shoot every time they get in the zone, the defense and the goaltender can adjust accordingly. And they do. And if any opposing coach scouts the Kings for even a period of hockey, the adjustment will be made in the practice before the game. What adjustment is made on the Kings’ part?

I haven’t seen any. 

Justin Bourne wrote an article for The Hockey News in January called: 

– “Shoot from anywhere” philosophy an outdated game plan –

Please give it a read, but here are some choice excerpts:

The root of this tired, beaten philosophy came about organically – your average hockey coach is generally at least a decade or so older than most of his players, meaning the last time he played hockey, be it in the ’80s or ’90s, goalies still let in a plethora of bad goals over the course of the season.

Terry Murray retired from playing in 1982. The Kings have eight players born before this.

Essentially, throwing the puck to the net against most of today’s ‘tenders, when there isn’t any traffic, is a turnover. Hopeless shots are the equivalent of dump-and-chase in today’s NHL – why are you giving your opponent the puck for free?

In fairness, Murray does acknowledge that the Kings need more traffic. To me, this is just an excuse as to why it’s not working. “The team DID outshoot their opponent and still lost? Oh. We, uh, need more traffic then to make the shots more difficult for the goaltender.”

Shots on goal are diminishing in value as a stat – it used to be a barometer of who carried the play and who had the most pressure. And while it still does represent offensive dominance to some (lesser) extent, it’s far more valuable to quantify quality scoring chances.

And Bingo was his name-o.

The best players in the game (take that Crosby character, for example) enter the offensive zone and, if they’re well covered, delay and wait for support. Third- and fourth-line grinders in that situation will invariably throw the puck towards the net, then take their pat on the back for a good shift when they get back to the bench.
That’s old-school foolishness.  

I will be sitting behind the Kings’ bench in an upcoming game thanks to a terrific birthday present from the girlfriend, and I look forward to hearing the phrase ‘Keep shooting!’ over and over. 

Let’s all step back and realize that “shooting from anywhere” is a cop out. Hang on to that thing. Look around. Really try to generate legitimate scoring chances.
“Shooting from anywhere” is just settling for nothing.

Watch players like Penner, Richards, Gagne. More and more, they are firing it from all areas of the offensive zone. Why? Probably because their coaches are telling them to.

These players have the skill to hold on to the puck and to create better offensive chances. But they are being held back to fit into the system. They are the brainiac students being taught Geometry and cutting triangles out of construction paper. 

The Kings are making dioramas for the science fair hoping to take home first prize against precisely designed rockets. 

6 Responses to “A Shot Mentality”
  1. Player-X says:

    I hate to wade into this, as it seems subjective to a certain degree. Yes, we can quantify the numbers of shots, goals, etc., but the entire equation comes down to a style of hockey preferred by a coach, and usually that style is dictated by the talent the coach has to work with. I agree that Murray is a defense-first coach, and I like that, while I gather you don’t. I am talking about fine degrees here, not the black and white. I think your view is equally supportable, we just differ in preference.

    I prefer to think that the Kings were a “pass it into the net” team that lacked possession time to do so: if this seems contradictory, it should, as I am talking about the non-playoff years when Murray first took over. He was trying to develop a shooting team that played good defense, and I think he still is. With the minimal talent Murray started with, he was forced into a defense-first style. Not only is that his preferred style, and not only does that style carry well into playoff hockey, but that style is also the only choice he could have made with a young, sub-par-talent team.

    Now, those worst days have passed, but my point is that his team is still in transition from not shooting enough, into shooting more, and eventually into getting quality opportunities when shooting. Much of the team are players from the time when the overall talent was much less, and now that the talent level has improved, it could reasonably take time to fully switch into a new, more aggressive offensive style while still maintaining the defensive success.

    It is as if the whole team is going through what Anze Kopitar went through; learn defense, than focus on incorporating offense into it. For me, this is much better than letting guys focus on offense and then try to fit defensive responsibility into that. Last year Kopi was a top twenty scorer, but actually tied for 15th, with Ryan Kesler, Patrick Kane, Patrick Marleau. Canucks, Hawks and Sharks, not Devils, Coyotes, Wild. The guys Kopi tied are from team with offensive freedom to create, not accused of being stale and boring defensive teams. Kopi also finished within 3 points of Toews, Claude Giroux, and Ryan Getzlaf. Again, Hawks, Flyers and Ducks, not boring defensive teams. (The Ducks maybe, but not Perry and Getzlaf and Ryan. I seem to recall a guy named Perry did pretty well offensively last year). As well, Kopi missed some games, he would have caught some of those guys. He was also within the same 4 points of Brad Richards, and he is pretty much a slam-dunk offensive guy, no?

    If Kopi can do it with Ryan Smyth on LW, or the revolving LW door in full swing, it is tough for me to believe that Murray can rightly be criticized for having a stifling system. Some guys can do it, some can’t. I think this year, Richards will be able to do what Kopi has done. Scoring will be up, despite the low production from Penner, or whoever else goes into a slump. We got depth on offense and we got depth on defense and we got depth in goal. You hear “shoot more,” but I hear Murray say, “We got to learn to take advantage of the skill level and let these guys get into the zone and create more.” If I wasn’t so lazy, I could find that quote, (paraphrased but the gist is there).

    • crownedroyal says:

      Your points are well made, and your position rational.

      Let me first say that I don’t think offensive strategy has to jeopardize defensive responsibility. It can, but it doesn’t have to. I’m not suggesting a highly aggressive attack, merely an offensive strategy that is more refined than ‘shoot and crash’. That is more of a desperation strategy. It requires more energy, more luck. It does not promote puck possession or skill.

      The game is different now, as are the Kings players. You are right. The shooting style was completely necessary in the offensively lacking rosters of Kings’ recent past. But those days are over.

      Again, I have no problem with preaching defense first. In fact, the reason Detroit has such a stifling defense is because they don’t dump and chase- they maintain possession of the puck. How can the other team score if the puck is on your team’s stick? I don’t think the Kings are ready to play a purely puck possession game, but they are ready to create better scoring chances in the offensive zone.

      Your points about Kopitar are correct. Except he would have probably been a 100 point player by now in another team’s system. You can’t tell me if he was in Backstrom’s place in Washington there is no way he wouldn’t have. Of course it helps playing with a guy like Ovechkin, but they just have a more offensive minded system. Again, I’m not saying this is preferable, but it is undeniable. The fact that Kopitar has put up the numbers he has in this system is nothing short of incredible.

      Thanks, as always, for reading and continuing the discussion.

  2. Player-X says:

    To keep it most simple: The Kings need a CHANCE mentality.

  3. crownedroyal says:

    I think I got what I wished for- the Kings tried to play a more puck possession style against Edmonton and create better chances in the offensive zone. They failed, but it’s a drastic change in mentality for many players. I think the attempt, though fruitless, was admirable, and I really don’t think it jeopardized the defense. Edmonton didn’t even earn two of those goals, and if Trevor Lewis scores on that shorthanded breakaway it is likely a much different game.

    • Player-X says:

      It was supremely interesting to see the Edmo game. First, Murray was quoted by Fox, numerous times, as saying he wanted more creativity. Probably as I was typing, as my post overlapped the beginning of the game (cuz I wait until 40 minutes in so I can skip comercials and intermissions) Murray was saying exactly what I had quoted him as saying days earlier.

      And, I agree, it was a new style they tried, carrying it in, etc. I think they would maybe have had better success, I dunno, if they had used the usual breakout. In the Edmo game the forwards were far up-ice, in center, and not moving out of their own zone in unison with the swooping center leading the rush into center. Instead, it was an empty d-zone with the first D-man skating toward pressure and then a diagonal back pass to the puck-moving defenseman coming from behind, and by that time the forwards were well toward the other blue line. Dunno if this was intentional: I thought the gap was too large, the long passes were tough to hold, and guys were looking back for passes just at the same time they were under pressure from literally running into Edmo guys holding their own blue line. Maybe if they used a hybrid of newer puck-carry with most of the old breakout system they might have had longer to prepare for the blue line, more guys with speed on attack for penetration, and/or speed to move laterally once in the O-zone. I hope they keep trying to develop the style on offense, it can still have the F3 in high position, but if guys are moving on entry and switching with speed that F3 won’t have to be static.

      Growing pains, man, I am all for it, we have the personnel now to be able to adapt to it, and I think it shows promise to all those that have accused Murray of being unwilling to try anything new.

      As far as Washington, it is well known that they are trying to tone down their system a little to add defense to it, was widely publicized last year when they took one of the highest scoring offenses and decided they needed to hold it back a little to develop and maintain a defensive conscience for playoff time.

      Kopi getting 100 points on another team? Maybe, but he would also not be the beast as a 2 way player that he is now. As I said, I would rather add offense to defensive ability as the Kings are, than add defense to offensive ability as Washington is now trying to do.

      Good chat!

      • crownedroyal says:

        I think we have come to an agreement in a roundabout way. Funny how hockey is that way.

        I agree that this strategy of adding offensive to a defensive minded team is far preferable. I do, however, have concerns that Murray may not be the right person for this job. I hope I’m wrong.

        Interesting notes about the breakout. It seems like it has never been very polished under Murray, even though he has always had talented puckmoving defensemen. Another point of concern.

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