In the first four games of the 2013-14 season, the Nashville Predators have scored just six goals — an output that’s led to a 1-3 record and some legitimate concern from fans and media alike.
I’ve asked to a lot of players in the Preds’ locker room how they can improve the offense, and their answers have mostly revolved around the idea of putting more shots on goal. Those guys are right: Last year Nashville finished last in the league in S/G (25.9) and currently sport that same figure so far in ’13-’14. Averaging less than 26 S/G is not going to cut it.
But it’s not just about increasing the quantity of shots.
Last night the Preds out-shot the Leafs 36-26, but lost 4-0. While Nashville did a good job cycling the puck in the offensive zone and dominated time of possession, they didn’t produce many great chances on Jonathan Bernier.
“It’s not just about getting a lot of shots, but getting those that have a good chance of going in,” Colin Wilson said last week. “Yeah, we want to throw the puck to the net, but if we don’t also focus on skating to the right areas and finding holes in the defense, we’re not going to score enough to win.”
While it’s impossible to analyze the quality of a shot based its distance from the goal, closer attempts tend to be more successful than ones from farther back. And according to ExtraSkater.com, the Preds had just six shots from closer than 30 feet against the Leafs. Toronto, on the other hand, had 20 shots from closer than 30 feet.
Let’s look back on the first three games of the year. In the season opener against the Blues, Nashville’s two goals were scored 19 feet (Fisher) and 26 feet (Legwand) from the net.
The Preds’ lone tally in Colorado last Friday (via Gaustad) came from 15 feet out.
Not counting Nystrom’s penalty shot, Nashville’s two goals on Tuesday came from 15 feet (Forsberg) and 22 feet (Wilson) out.
Sensing a pattern here?
It’s clear the Preds need to not only shoot more, but need drive to the crease more often and rely less on generating offense from the perimeter.
“We definitely have to get to the net more,” said Patric Hornqvist. “It creates something, starts a little scrum, gets everybody involved. There’s not too many pretty goals scored in this league anymore. Rebounds, second and third chances — creating those is how we’re going to win. And we need to get better at that.”
Hornqvist has certainly done his part, as his 23 SOG currently rank 23rd in the league — most of which have come from close range. But just like last year — when he put 87 SOG in 24 games — he isn’t getting a whole lot of help from his teammates. Seth Jones and Craig Smith are second on the team with 11 SOG, and Mike Fisher currently has 10, but no one else on the Preds has hit double digits.
Finding a happy medium between getting a lot of shots off and creating quality chances is easier said than done. The Preds have yet to strike that balance, which was highly evident on Thursday.
“We controlled the puck a lot of the time … but I think we controlled it, hung on to it a couple times too long,” Colin Wilson said after the loss to Toronto. “It’s about getting that quick hit to the D-man, getting it to the net or getting the bodies there.”
If Nashville focuses on cutting down the average distance of its shots, the goals should come at a higher rate. The good news is this team has the kind of tough, rugged players capable of accomplishing this — now it’s just a matter of executing.