Pop Goes The Offense

January 15th, 2010 | Posted in Commentary
By: D'Arcy McGrath

Any goal scoring hockey player will tell you that as long as you’re getting chances, a goal slump will end, and all will be right in their world.

It’s a valid statement and theory.

With no chances, there is little chance of scoring, meaning entire structures and styles of play would need to be altered in order to change the attack and get the puck into areas where chances can be generated.

But what pray tell, does a hockey club do when the entire roster is faltering in the red zone despite running up big shot and blue chip chance totals?

The Flames have fired 124 shots in their past three games at opposing goaltenders (don’t even get me started on pucks hitting iron, going over the cage, or fired wide completely), but have only managed five goals. That equates to a .960 save percentage for the trio of Roberto Luongo, Craig Anderson and M.A. Fleury. The NHL’s best team save percentage is the Buffalo Sabres at .929, if the Flames faced .929 goaltending in the the last three outings they would have lit the lamp nine times instead of the five and be sitting on three straight regulation wins. And that’s against all world goaltending. The league average save percentage of .908 suggests the Flames should have found the net 11 or 12 times in those three games.

I know what you’re going to say; three games is three games, and not a large enough sample size to either panic or over analyze a very short term goal scoring wane. However, a look at the season with detail depicts a problem that has been developing for a very long time.

The average NHL team on an average NHL night generally scores goals to the tune of a 9.1% shooting percentage. The Flames through 47 games have exceeded that 9.1% efficiency level only 21 times, or stated differently; they’ve only managed to be an average NHL team in proficiency 44% of the time. Even more alarming, eight of those 21 games came in the first ten games of the season where they somehow filled the net despite not generating many shots. In fact that Flames topped the 20% shooting percentage mark five times in those 10 games!

In the last 21 games the Flames have only exceeded the league standard 9.1% six times, with only two of those instances by more than a slight edge. Ten times in those 21 games the team hasn’t even been close to the 9.1% target. This team hasn’t been scoring for half a season. If the first ten games of the season hadn’t of occurred, statistical foot work that isn’t really all that fair, the Flames would have a 7.9% shooting percentage and be battling the Leafs (7.7%) and the Wings (7.6%) for the most anemic offense in the NHL.

Oddly enough the team seems to be getting better and better at getting the puck to the net despite their failure to put the puck into the cage. In the club’s first ten games they only hit the 30 mark in shots for on one occasion. The second ten game set saw that number rise to four times in ten contests. Games 21-30 had them fire 30 pucks on net on six occasions, while games 31-40 has seen them hit that mark three times. The last seven games they’ve done the trick five times, well above their season average. Overall the team has moved their shots for average from 23 to north of 26, but still sit 3 1/2 shots behind the league average.

So it’s coming around. Chance generation is proof positive that systems are in shape, and they have the skills to get the puck into dangerous areas. So why haven’t they scored enough goals to win games more often than not?

Do they lack finishers? Or is it puck luck and nerves?

In a sense Darryl Sutter is saved by the shear inability to do much in today’s NHL. If his brother didn’t have the system to push the puck into the opposition zone than a coaching change would be a relatively easy fix. But a GM just can’t go out and two or three “finishers” into today’s market. It won’t happen.

So the answer is simple. Trust that chances will turn into goals, and goals will turn into wins. Keep that positive spin an spinning and hope you have enough to move up the Western Conference standings and into a more comfortable playoff position.

What happens if the popgun offence continues to fire blanks?

It’s overhaul in the summer with some pretty entrenched Flames faces possibly finding new destinations.

Light the lamp boys!


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