Only four times this postseason did an opponent finish with more shots on goal than the Penguins. The last incident came in Game 4 against Washington.
What the Penguins’ fairly regular edge in shots represents as it relates to success depends on who you ask. Fans have grown wiser over the last couple seasons about the merits of shot attempts versus shots on goal, but I sense a good many out there still strictly care about what gets to the netminders (and even more so, what gets past them). It never fails to amuse me when a tweet along the lines of “I don’t care about any of that shot stuff as long as we win!” pops up in my notifications.
The outcome of Game 3 — a 3-2 overtime win for San Jose, which tallied 26 shots on goal and allowed 40 — inspired some reaction from fans that I considered surprising. And what Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said after practice on Sunday only added to the intrigue from my vantage point.
“They shoot from everywhere,” DeBoer said of the Penguins. “You do have to look at quality versus quantity. I don’t think it’s as easy as looking at the shot clock and saying you’re getting dominated because they’ve got 40 shots and you’ve got 26. I don’t think the game is that simple. They get pucks to the net. We can probably do a better job of limiting that, getting in some more lanes.
“Historically during the year, we’ve been one of the best shot-blocking teams in the league. But they fire from everywhere, every angle, all over the place, then cause confusion around the net.
“We’ve got to do a better job. But does the fact that they have 30 more shots in the series bother me? Not as much as it bothers you guys.”
I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with DeBoer, depending on the sentence. He’s probably correct about the Penguins settling for low-percentage shots at times. But because the Penguins also get those pucks to the net — a fact he acknowledges — the shot quality can’t be criticized too thoroughly. And research on shot quality in hockey has thus far revealed that, as the quantity of shot attempts grows, the effect of “puck luck,” for lack of a better term, tends to balance everything out. In other words, low-percentage shots from the perimeter eventually go in, and high-percentage looks, which are relatively infrequent to begin with, get denied.
The charts from www.hockeystats.ca show us the Penguins probably didn’t “give away” Game 3 or “deserve to win” it as much as fans (and some media members) insisted. San Jose stepped up its offense in the second period and, with considerable help from Nick Bonino’s four-minute double-minor, passed the Penguins in the third in scoring chances and shot attempts. The Penguins maintained their edge in shots on goal. But to say they carried play is a little misleading.
Matt Murray actually referenced the Sharks’ higher scoring chance total on Sunday when asked if he viewed Game 4 as a “bounce back” opportunity for himself. He owned up to the fact that he gave up one bad goal and another one of debatable quality. But he was also correct to note that San Jose’s lower shots-on-goal total didn’t necessarily reflect how much of a fight the hosts put up at the SAP Center in Game 3.
DeBoer maybe (probably?) believes the Sharks will not continue to finish with negative shot differentials. If San Jose can continue to establish a better down-low cycle game, he might be right. But the numbers in this series still point to encouraging signs for the Penguins.