Goal-scoring or, perhaps more accurately a lack thereof, was a common theme of this 2013 season for the Sens.
The Sens had the lowest goal output of any playoff-bound team in the NHL this season at 116, tied with the Colorado Avalanche for the fourth lowest total in the NHL. The Avs, and the three teams below the Sens (New Jersey, Florida and Nashville), were all lottery teams and will draft in the top-10 of June’s draft.
Ottawa’s leg up on the competition, as we all now know, was their stellar goaltending. The Sens gave up a paltry 104 goals against, the second lowest number in the NHL. The only team to give up fewer goals was the Presidents Trophy winning Chicago Blackhawks. Good company to be in.
A famous phrase, emphatically repeated each year, reminds you that defence wins championships. It also makes the difference between bottom-feeders and playoff squads. Only one team in the NHL, the Minnesota Wild, made the playoffs with a negative goal differential, the New York Islanders had an even goal differential and the Columbus Blue Jackets were the lone NHL team to miss the playoffs with a positive goal differential.
Goal differential is a two-part process: 1) Scoring and 2) Stopping the other guys from scoring. The Sens were much more effective at the latter in 2013.
One of the big questions heading into the offseason for the Sens is how they will manufacture more offence going forward. The team’s defensive system and goaltending has been heralded and is expected to be of high quality going forward. To make the leap to elite, the Sens will need the run support to alleviate the burden off of the goaltending.
Speculation for much of the year was that the team “settled” for shots and were content with floaters and point shots from long distances. Intuitively, that made plenty of sense. A lot of shots (the Sens led the league in shots per game) and not much to show for it certainly lent itself to that theory.
On the contrary, however, the Sens ability to control possession in so many of their games — particularly in losses, where they averaged higher total of shots per game and greater shot differential — puts a dent in the theory that many of their shots were objectively poor. Poor shots don't lend themselves well to more shots. They lend themselves to giving the puck back to your opponent.
With this in mind, I decided to look into shot statistics across the league to figure out if the Sens were taking softer shots than their peers across the league at even-strength.
I took a look at the Sens average shot distance, the average distance on their goals and their overall shooting percentage. For additional context, I also factored in rebounds. Namely, how many recorded rebounds they had, the average distance from the net on rebounds and, consequently, their shooting percentage on rebound chances. In doing so, I think we get a better idea of how the team functions with respect to traffic and second chance opportunities.
To give a full picture of things, I repeated the process for every team in the NHL to get an idea of how things functioned on a team-by-team basis. From these I got the league averages for the 2013 season.
The results may surprise you.
The Sens shot the puck from an average distance of 35.6 feet and scored their goals from an average distance of 24 feet away. They converted goals at a league-low 5.9 per cent clip, the only team to be sub-6 per cent this season. With respect to rebounds, the Sens generated 64 from an average distance of 14.4 feet away. They scored 26.6 per cent of the time when taking a rebound chance.
League wide, the numbers compare favourably. The average NHL team took their shots from 34.9 feet away and scored goals from 22.7 feet away. Not a huge disparity. Yet, somehow, teams converted 8 per cent of their shots from similar distances.
In terms of rebounds, the league-wide average was 52.6 chances from 16.5 feet away. The average NHL team converted on those rebounds 27.6 per cent of the time. Again, similar averages to the Sens with Ottawa actually generating more rebound opportunities.
So, what can we determine?
A byproduct of the shortened season was a prime example the internet famous “small sample size.” Quite simply, the Sens were a very unlucky team in 2013 at even strength. Similarly, we saw the opposite in Round 1 against Montreal with the Sens not consistently outshooting their opponent yet putting up six goals twice and winning in five games. It stands to reason that 2013-14 will fall somewhere in between the two instances.
As we saw earlier in the playoffs, the Sens are a much more prolific team when they have bodies in and around the opposing goaltender. While there is, unfortunately, no data to track “screened shots” there is undeniable value in having bodies down low. With their rebound totals checking in higher than the league average, the commitment to that is obvious, it's simply a matter of converting
If the Sens continue to play within the same system and keep bodies in front, the (proportional) offensive numbers are sure to stabilize during next year’s 82 game season as they stand. Any boost from offseason acquisitions and healthy Spezzas, Michaleks or Karlssons will be gravy.
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