The NHL slap shot is dying. Should some punctuals be the next to go?
We’ve concluded that the NHL’s standalone slap shot is dying. Some punctual should also be under respiratory assistance.
This may come as a surprise to those who view the one-timer as a go-to option in an offensive toolbox. It is partly true.
Consider the left elbow power play that Alex Ovechkin turned into a work of art. According to Clear Sight Analytics tracking, between the start of the 2020-21 season and November 18, these five-on-four one-offs, when preceded by a cross pass below the hash marks, pass in 35.4 % of the time, league wide.
However, different data illustrate how other punctuals are now considered irrelevant.
Take, for example, the one-timer above the tops of the circles with no traffic ahead. Even when a brawny shooter like Adam Pelech bends over such a shot, that’s where the offense can die.
According to Clear Sight Analytics, from the start of the 2020-21 season through Nov. 18, there were 4,288 unfiltered one-offs taken in all situations above the top of the circles. Only 30 entered. This translates to a stoppage percentage of 0.993.
In other words, the unfiltered high timer has a 0.6% chance of becoming a target. Clear Sight Analytics defines a high percentage scoring chance as one that occurs 20% or more of the time.
“Are they scoring? Yes,” says John Healy, Clear Sight Analytics vice president for data collection. “Do they score often? Very short answer: no.
You can believe that a quick timer that does not enter produces a follow-up action. The data says otherwise.
Only 159 of 4,288 on time (3.7%) produced shots on rebounds. Those follow-up shots turned into 40 goals. The high point shot is just too easy for a goaltender to catch or direct to safe ice.
“We’re all in awe of it,” Healy says. “But then you realize those shots in a game just don’t go in. Anything above the upper circles, especially if the goalkeeper sees it, he’s going to save it.”
The more data you study, the more the story stays the same. Take the one-timer launched below the tops of the circles and outside the face-off points: 5,609 shots made, 232 goals scored (4.1%). Even on the power play, the numbers remain stable: 1,910 shots on reception taken, 81 goals scored (4.2%).
“I think it makes sense,” Healy said of the low-percentage nature of those point shots on the power play. “Because it’s a very easy and predictable read. Because many teams have been using this Ovechkin type spot for several years. This is early reading for the goalie.
In some cases, breaches can disrupt predictability. The shorthanded know, for example, that the Bruins like to set up David Pastrnak for power-play one-timers to the left elbow. If Pastrnak starts games with his typical puck shot, that may open up other options.
Against the Canucks on November 13, Pastrnak charged for a one-timer. Goalkeeper Thatcher Demko hit the shot he thought was coming. Instead, Pastrnak passed the puck to Patrice Bergeron in the high notch. Bergeron redirected him to Demko.
Against the Flyers on November 17, Pastrnak spotted Jake DeBrusk available at the far post. As Carter Hart faced Pastrnak, the right winger slapped a pass to DeBrusk for a cantilever goal.
Either way, it was like a football team chasing the ball early. It doesn’t matter if such rushes produce minimal yardage if they set up a play-action pass for a touchdown.
“You have to honor the goalie shot,” Bruins coach Jim Montgomery said. “For defensive players too, they often want to try and block that shot. So sometimes when you block a shot, you open up lanes by committing to the shot, passing lanes. Pasta is good at knowing if he has the shooting lane or the passing lane.
The solution to empty calorie one-timers may therefore be wrist shots. Healy sees four benefits:
1. Teammates may be more inclined to get in front of a slower speed wrist than a buzzing slapper. Specifically with point shots, the bodies in front have to make life harder for the goaltenders, either by filling in their lines of sight or tipping the pucks. Montgomery, for example, wants two forwards inside the points on point shots.
2. By taking a moment to handle the puck and study the scenery instead of tearing up an upside-down one-timer, a point shooter expands their offensive portfolio. The best, like defenders Cale Makar and Adam Fox, buy time for themselves to create shooting lanes and for their teammates to occupy them. Using the precision of a wrist, they can direct pucks more accurately around shot blockers.
Consider this Alex Killorn deflection of a Mikhail Sergachev shot. Sergachev could have recovered the puck just once after receiving a pass from Blake Coleman. Instead, Sergachev raced down the blue line, waited for his teammates to converge on the net, and placed his shot where he wanted.
“Instead of taking time to finish, which now gives the shot blocker time to enter the lane, if I just hold my stick on the puck ready to shoot, now I have more control on which side from the net I want to shoot based on where the keeper’s head is and where the players in front are screening,” Healy explains. “It also lets me decide which way I want to shoot around the blocker shooting or blockers in the plural in the lane. All that time you take to wrap up gives you less time, in fact, to make up your mind on all those little nuanced details.
3. A slower flick of the wrist can produce more secondary action. If a sizzling one-timer peeks a shin guard, he can go into a corner. Worse still, it could backfire the other way and produce a breakaway chance.
In comparison, a long distance muffin may not fit. But if he hits a defender’s pants in front of the net, the rebound would stay in high-danger ice.
“I can insert something slowly, get a screen, get a deflection,” Healy says. “Now even if he’s blocked, he’s more likely to stay there. Even if the keeper makes the save, maybe he’s not able to stick it or take it with his blocker and to send it into the corner. He fights it. This puck is sitting in a much more dangerous area.
4. The chance of a shooter’s stick breaking with a wrist shot is lower than with a volley shot.
Hockey remains an instinctive game. The availability of clear-as-day data, however, should motivate coaches to encourage certain plays and discourage others.
“The message should be as broad or concise as it should be based on your team and level of players,” says Healy. “So if you think your guys can handle more variations of a rule, then I think you can put in some stipulations. I think the bottom line is, ‘We don’t take one-offs above the top circle as a team. .’”
It would then be up to the players to listen.
(Top photo by Justin Faulk: Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)