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On Ottawa's Aversion to Shot-Blocking

April 7, 2014, 12:49 PM ET [32 Comments]
Travis Yost
Ottawa Senators Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
A couple of smart guys have written on Ottawa's weird Corsi% and Shot% discrepancies. The Cliffs Notes: Ottawa carries a decent Corsi%, but a much poorer Shot%, and that's largely because the team seems to be disinterested or coached into avoiding shot-blocking. Tyler Dellow wrote about this a week ago, and Manny Elk touched on it a bit this weekend.

I think there's some merit to the latter part of that theory, one that suggests Paul MacLean sort of coaches his team stylistically to do this. After all, he does come from the Detroit Red Wings system, and they're sort of notorious for this exact same thing. And, amusingly enough, Detroit blocks the second smallest percentage of shot-attempts in the league, so I think there's some credence to this supposition.

The debate about the advantages and disadvantages of shot-blocking is seemingly endless. On one side, there's the fact that a cleanly blocked shot fully deters a shot-attempt, and minimizes the chance that such an attempt finds the back of the net to near-zero. A lot of great possession teams block the limited shots they see, and generally speaking, shot-blocking has become a staple of the league.

But there's also the other side of the coin: shot-blocking isn't a guarantee, and way, way too often do we see guys half-block an attempt and send it into a more dangerous area, or even worse, redirect it to create a shot on goal against. And, there's also the injury issue -- pucks coming off the body at 100-mph obviously can cause a lot of pain.

It's a tricky thing to discuss, because principally, shot-blocking is an important part of hockey, and yet shot-blocking doesn't always lead to good results.

Anyways, it's clear to me in the data that Ottawa's obviously abandoned shot-blocking relative to their peers, for better or worse. We've heard Craig Anderson say in the past, too, that he much prefers "seeing" the puck. Perhaps Paul MacLean and the coaching staff bought into this, as well as their ridiculously inflated save percentages last year. Whatever the case, the shots just aren't being blocked these days.

This graph, I think, is pretty telling.

These numbers are just insanely low. Ottawa's team-average of blocked five-on-five shot-attempts is about 20%, where the league average is north of 25%. Looking at the player's on-ice numbers -- that is, the percentage of blocked shot-attempts by the five-man unit when said player is a part of that five-man unit -- we see just how great the disparity is.

For example, Jason Spezza here sees his group block about 18.5% of shot-attempts at even-strength -- seven percentage points (!) off of the norm. This, by the way, is the single-lowest percentage of any regular skater this year. And, he has company. Erik Karlsson is sixth-lowest, Milan Michalek is eighth-lowest, Chris Phillips is ninth-lowest, Clarke MacArthur is tenth lowest, Jared Cowen is eleventh-lowest, Kyle Turris is twelfth-lowest, and Patrick Wiercioch/Bobby Ryan squeeze into the top-twenty, too.

It's nutty. And, it's a massive drop-off from last year, where they fit comfortably amongst their peers on this front. I suspect there's sort of a diminishing marginal return thing going on at both ends of the band -- block too few a percentage of shots and invite trouble, block too high a percentage of shots and you're inviting more of the cons than the pros.

Is it just randomness? Here's seven years of data. I'm skeptical it's that. You'll note the red marker as your 2013-2014 Ottawa Senators.

All this to say, of course, is that I'm not sure Ottawa's theory about allowing the goaltender to see more shots (and, consequently, blocking less shots) is wrong. Perhaps there's some merit to this, and perhaps the benefits (avoiding redirections, avoiding injuries, etc.) out-weigh the cons (sometimes fully deterring an attempt) short and long-term.

But, this is the sort of stuff you really have to investigate if you're looking into how and why an average possession team with plenty of high-end forward talent missed the post-season. The answer, of course, is that they have allowed 261 goals in 78-games, good for dead last in the NHL.

If you don't think goaltending individually is the problem, and you're not a team that's getting territorially killed, then you have to consider that something the team is doing systematically is wrong.

Is it shot-blocking? I'm not sure. But, if I'm management or even a media guy, these are the questions I'm asking the coaching staff.


Thanks for reading!
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