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Why Shots on Goal is a Useless Stat

As I’m sitting here writing this article, the Toronto Maple Leafs are leading the league in one offensive category, “shots on goal”. They currently sit in a tie for last in points with the Carolina Hurricanes at 15, and have sole possession of last place in the wins department with 4. (source for stats at NHL.com) ((click s/g to sort by shots on goal leaders))

The point of this article isn’t to point out the Maple Leafs struggles (you can find plenty of articles beating that point to death) but rather to illustrate just how old, and frankly useless, the “shots on goal” stat really is.

For any hockey fans who witnessed the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Islanders Monday night, you watched the Leafs barrage the  Islander goaltender Dwayne Roloson with 61 shots on net. In fact, the Leafs out-shot the Islanders by an almost 3-1 margin (61-21 to be exact), and still found themselves on the losing end of a 4-3 win for the Islanders.

If “shots on goal” is an accurate stat to gauge how the game was played, how can this outcome be explained? How can a team last in the standings be leading in shots on goal, if shots on goal is really a relevant stat?

It should be pointed out that Roloson did play exceptionally well but that can’t always be the case, and isn’t. The Leafs have made a bunch of goalies look really  good this year so far.  The reality is that the Leafs have adopted the Jason Blake mentality of shooting everything on net and hoping for the best. Outside of Phil Kessel, most Leaf shots on net really have little chance of beating an NHL calibre goaltender cleanly, and more resemble a little kid throwing punches at his big brother, who has his hand on kid brothers forehead and is never really in any danger of being hit.

Throwing pucks on net, trying to score dirty goals is a common mantra for a team that is struggling offensively. It’s understandable that the Leafs are trying to get pucks to the net, create traffic and maybe chip a couple rebounds past the opposing goaltender, given their lack of skilled forwards, to create legitimate scoring chances.

What I find hard to understand is why shots on goal is a stat worth keeping. Surely there are better measuring sticks with which to judge the way a game unfolded. “Scoring chances” is a better indicator but leaves too much room for interpretation.

I think that puck possession is the best indicator to decide who really had control of the game and dictated play but you rarely hear this stat being mentioned during a televised game. Instead, all the talk last night was about all the pucks being directed at the Islanders net, futile as they were.

13 Comments

  1. Jeff

    November 25, 2009 at 12:38 am

    I once added SOG into the format for our fantasy hockey league, and guys like Jason Blake became superstars!

    The other managers were not happy.

  2. Phil

    November 25, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    As a longtime player, I’m not sure how I feel about your assertion here. I had a coach once(he was a former goalie) who swore an average of four shots would cross the line for every 10 that are taken on net. And he also insisted(rightly) that you’re never going to score unless you shoot. I’ve always played by the principal: If you have a shot, take it.

    On a fantasy note, I’ll leave you with this anecdotal story: I was using the above philosophy and figuring that shots will eventually hit the back of the net, so I went to the UFA pile and searched the guys racking up shots. Lo and behold, I come across Nick Bergfors of the Devils, a former first rounder who fell off the proverbial radar screen. I see he’s got one assist in nine games, but a boat load of shots. Well, if you look at his stats in the last 11 games, you’ll see he’s a point-per. I used the same theory with Rotislav Olesz of the Panthers, right before he had a three-point night.

    In summation, are shots useless? I don’t think so. I guess according to my theory, we’ll find out if the Leafs suddenly go on a tear!

  3. Derek

    November 25, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    Hey, you do have to shoot to score but it doesn’t always give an accuate picture of the game to record shots on net. 4 out of every 10 shots don’t cross the line either, or the Leafs would have scored 24 goals last game! Most goalies have an average of .900 save percentage…

    http://tsn.ca/nhl/statistics/?show=goalie&sortcol=8
    (source:TSN)

  4. johnny

    November 25, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    the simple fact that a shot into the gut of a goalie counts as a shot on goal, and a post or crossbar doesn’t, tells you all you need to know about this stat

  5. Derek

    November 25, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    Refreshing words from The Man, Johnny O…

  6. ZAKK

    November 27, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    I’M A THRASHERS FAN AND WE GIVE UP CLOSE TO 40 SHOT A GAME BUT WE STILL WIN BECAUSE WE DON’T GIVE UP GOOD SHOTS SO I DON’T EVEN WORRY ABOUT THE SOG ANYMORE. DEAD STAT TO ME BUT FUN TO KEEP UP WITH. I GUESS IT SHOWS WHO IS GETTING MORE QUALITY TIME WITH THE PUCK I SOME CASES I GUESS THAT WHAT YOU GET OUT OF IT

  7. Jeff

    November 27, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    Maybe there should be some kind of “rating system” for shot quality? Very subjective of course.

    Or, shot location (like spray chart in baseball), if you shoot from quadrent A=X points, if you shoot from quarent B=Ypoints, etc etc.

  8. Jeff

    November 27, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Also, stats could be kept for goalies too in this regard.

    Using the Leafs as an example, if Vokoun stops 5 shots from Jason Blake, and stops 5 shots from Phil Kessel, there is considerably different value in those two scenarios.

    There should be a way to denote this.

    Im sure NHL stats will move further in this direction, and as more NHL fans spend more time online communicating with other fans.

  9. Derek

    November 27, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    I agree Jeff. The more we talk about these problems, sooner or later the “old boys club” will have to listen.

  10. Dan

    June 30, 2010 at 9:33 am

    Shots are kept mainly for goalies stats. Have you watched much hockey in the last 5 years? Have you seen how many bad goals are scored from a bad shot? Why wouldnt you take as many shots as you can? As for rating system for shots thats just another stupid idea, you cannot rate the shots as the hardest shots to stop are the ones that catch a goalie of guard reguardless of where it is shot from or who it is shot by

  11. Hussain

    July 24, 2010 at 10:33 am

    One thing I thought the leafs needed last season was a shooting coach. Pick up a retired sniper (if only Pavel Bure was willing to show up) and teach your forwards how to shoot properly, where to aim on the goalie, how to find a goalies weakness, methods on how to release the puck a little bit quicker, etc.

  12. Joseph

    August 5, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    Well they’re obviously kept as a stat, why wouldn’t you do it. Not only does it allow one to calculate a goalie’s save percentage, but it allows one to see how efficient one is at shooting the puck by determining each individual player’s shot percentage.

    However, as a team stat, I’ve never given the stat any value at all.

  13. Jeff

    September 8, 2010 at 6:30 am

    If this were MLB, they would have figured out how to value this properly by now:

    #7 by Jeff at November 27th, 2009
    Maybe there should be some kind of “rating system” for shot quality? Very subjective of course.

    Or, shot location (like spray chart in baseball), if you shoot from quadrent A=X points, if you shoot from quarent B=Ypoints, etc etc.

    #8 by Jeff at November 27th, 2009
    Also, stats could be kept for goalies too in this regard.

    Using the Leafs as an example, if Vokoun stops 5 shots from Jason Blake, and stops 5 shots from Phil Kessel, there is considerably different value in those two scenarios.

    There should be a way to denote this.

    Im sure NHL stats will move further in this direction, and as more NHL fans spend more time online communicating with other fans.