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Where the Devil Are They Shooting From?

Despite Thursday's breakout 5 goal performance, the New Jersey Devils have not scored too many goals this season. In fact, they rank 23rd in the NHL with 2.38 goals scored per game. Let's look at where the Devils are shooting the puck from.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

In the world of hockey statistics, we like to judge skaters based on how many points they are putting up, and specifically if they are putting pucks in the net.  For some skaters, this may be more or less important.  It is very important for a sniper like Phil Kessel to continue to put pucks in the back of the net, while someone like Nicklas Backstrom makes a living dishing the puck off to Alex Ovechkin, and players who find themselves on a non-scoring line will generally be praised for generating energy, hits, and a potential point here or there.

When judging how someone is doing in terms of goals scored, it becomes easy to look at the number of shots taken and their shooting percentage.  Someone like Reid Boucher this season for Albany only has 3 goals on 44 shots attempted, which is giving him quite a poor shooting percentage.  Mike Cammalleri, however, currently has 11 goals on 55 shots attempted, which gives him a shiny shooting percentage of 20%.  These numbers do not necessarily mean that Boucher is terrible at scoring goals or that Cammalleri has the best shot in the NHL, just that one may be getting a little more luck than the other.

What those numbers fail to show, however, is exactly where skaters are taking shots from.  Just from looking at those numbers above, we have to assume that at least a majority of Boucher's 44 shots are quality chances, but it could very easily be that he is shooting from poor angle positions or far away from the net.  These factors would also help to decrease his shooting percentage, as those shots are easier to save.  Now, I have no idea where Boucher is actually shooting the puck from, but therein lays the problem: we are only getting so much information by only looking at shots and shooting percentage.

Last week, I happened to stumble onto the NHL Heat Map Tool from Sporting Charts.  This tool lets anyone look at how many shots someone has taken, where they are taking shots from, how many goals they have, and how they are exactly scoring those goals.  Using this tool, we can chart the average shooting distance for players, and for the team as a whole.  I figured why not try this for some of the main New Jersey Devils, and see what sort of shots the team takes.

Note: I am only looking at those who have at least 30 shots for this team.

The Data - Forwards

Mike Cammalleri (linked above) - As mentioned above, his shot has been hot (love the rhyme?!) while he has been on the ice. His average shot distance has been at 28.36 feet, with only 8 of his 55 shots coming from behind the faceoff circles.  Interestingly enough, 3 of those 8 shots went in, giving him a 37.5% shooting percentage on long distance shots.  Cammalleri has taken the bulk of his shots in the slot, with another 9 or so coming from within and beyond the right faceoff circle.  It makes sense that his shooting percentage is so high: he is generally taking quality shots, giving himself a good chance to score.

Jaromir Jagr (linked here) - Jagr currently only has 4 goals on 48 shots on net, for a low shooting percentage of 8.33%.  He has a career shooting percentage of 13.7%, so he is shooting well below that now.  His average shot distance is actually better than Cammalleri's, with an average distance of 24.06 feet.  This may be because only 3 of his 48 shots have come from behind the faceoff circles.  Jagr has also taken a high majority of his shots in the slot, but his shots seem to be a little more spread out than Cammalleri's were.  13 of his shots come from within the right circle, and another couple come from the far side of the left circle.  Despite this, I still think it is clear that Jagr is snake bitten, as he is getting quality chances.  They will eventually translate into goals if he keeps it up.

Adam Henrique (linked here) - Henrique has only taken 34 shots on the season due to missed time and a poor possession game this season.  Despite this, he has still netted 7 goals, for a pristine shooting percentage of 20.59%.  This could be because he is taking some of the highest percentage shots out there.  His average shooting distance is only 22.1 feet, and only three shots have come from beyond the faceoff circles.  Those three shots, however, are just beyond the circles, still nowhere near the blue line.  The overwhelming majority of his shots are coming from the low slot right in front of the goaltender.  If he keeps that up, his shooting percentage will definitely remain in double digits, maybe even above 15%.

Michael Ryder (linked here) - Ryder has been doing what he can to avoid long icy spells this season, rocking 54 shots so far.  However, he only has 4 goals to show for it, for a low shooting percentage of 7.41%.  His career sh% is 12.5%, and he has only ever completed one season with a sh% below 10%, so that should rise.  However, he needs to start taking better quality shots for that to happen.  His average shot distance is at 29.98 feet, and he has taken shots from literally everywhere in the offensive zone.  Only around 20 of his 53 shots have come from closer than the faceoff dots, and not many at all have come from the slot.  While I believe that sometimes the Devils need to shoot more, regardless of position, Ryder is an example of how that strategy does not always lead to goals.  He does have 10 assists, however, so some of those shots could certainly be put back off rebounds.  Nonetheless, he needs to shoot higher quality shots.

Travis Zajac (linked here) - I understand that at this point in his career, most of us do not expect Zajac to snipe many goals.  He is a distributor and strong 2-way center, not a goal scorer.  Nonetheless, for the Devils to be really good, he needs to find some twine once and a while.  Currently, he has 4 goals in 30 shots, for a sh% of 13.33%.  That is not a bad % at all, but the overall number of shots is certainly low.  His average shooting distance is also high at 28.95 feet, and very few shots come from the slot.  All 4 of his goals come from high scoring locations, so I feel like if he took more shots from the slot, instead of dishing the puck or settling for lower quality chances, he could find himself on the scoring sheet more often.

Patrik Elias (linked here) - As you probably know, Elias has had a real down season so far, with only 2 goals in 25 games played.  He has taken 31 shots, for a miserable shooting percentage of 6.45%.  His career sh% is almost doubled at 12.4%, so I do not believe it will remain that low.  Also, while he does have a higher average shot distance with 26.65 feet, the majority of his shots are coming from high scoring areas in front of the net.  His average distance is buoyed from a few shots at the blue line.  If he can get more shots from the slot area, I have to believe that more will eventually go in.

Stephen Gionta (linked here) - Interestingly enough, Gionta also meets the criteria of having at least 30 shots on net.  He actually has 35, and just netted his first goal on Thursday night against Toronto.  This gives him a quite terrible shooting percentage of 2.86%.  However, Gionta generally plays on an energy line, and getting 35 shots so far is definitely a positive, even if only one has gone in.  His average shooting distance is 24.31 feet, which is not bad at all, but most are generally coming from the sides of the net as opposed to directly in front of it.  This gives him a smaller angle by which to score.  I think if he starts to get more shots from the front of the net, like when he scored on Thursday, we could see more goals out of him.

The Data - Defensemen

Marek Zidlicky (linked here) - The data for defensemen will be rather different than it is for forwards, but I still wanted to look at those who have taken at least 30 shots, as they produce a decent portion of points for the Devils.  Zidlicky has 3 goals on 44 shots so far this season, which is good for a sh% of 6.82%.  This is right around his career average of 7%. Defensemen will tend to have lower shooting percentages due to the fact that they take most of their shots from far away at the point.  Zidlicky is no exception.  His average shooting distance is at 46 feet, and he has only taken around 10-12 shots from within the faceoff circles.  However, for defensemen, that is not bad at all, and that offensive production is exactly what this team needs.  Those extra shots from the point can create rebounds or be deflected for goals.

Damon Severson (linked here) - Severson is currently the shot leader for the New Jersey Devils with 65 shots.  He has had somewhat of an unlucky streak recently, however, and only has 4 goals to show for all of those shots.  Even still, that is not bad at all for the rookie.  His sh% sits at 6.15%.  His average shooting distance is a little further back than Zidlicky's, at 51.04 feet.  The large majority of his shots come from the right point, beyond the faceoff circles.  While that is not bad, as that is his position on the ice, he may find a little more success if he took more shots towards the center of the ice.

Eric Gelinas (linked here) - Gelinas, with his booming shot, has fired towards the net 47 times in 21 games played.  The opposite of Severson, most of his shots come from the left point, but ironically, only 1 of his 3 goals came from that position.  The other two come more from the right point.  He is at a 6.38% shooting percentage, with an average shooting distance of 51.34 feet.  Again, like with Severson, I feel like he could potentially hammer more pucks home if he took more of his shots towards the middle of the ice.

Andy Greene (linked here) - Greene is NJ's final defenseman to have at least 30 shots on goal so far.  He has 34, and does not have a goal to show for it.  He has the closest average shooting distance amongst the aforementioned defensemen, at 44.52 feet.  However, almost none of his shots have come from the center of the ice.  Most all are on the left side of the rink, which cuts down his angle and gives him a worse chance to get the puck in the net.  He has 7 assists on the season so he is producing points, but it would be great to see some of those shots go in.

Summing It Up

In the end, what is shown is that the Devils are taking fairly quality shots, with most forwards getting a lot of chances in the slot.  Shooters like Cammalleri and Jagr get a lot of high quality attempts.  The main difference may simply be luck.  Cammalleri is rocking a 20% shooting percentage, while Jagr only has an 8.33% shooting percentage.  Yes there is skill involved with sniping the corners of the net and getting clear deflections.  For example, that skill would showcase in more goals for someone like Cammalleri as opposed to Gionta.  However, my hope is that if the Devils can begin to get more luck, more shots will eventually hit some twine.

One major issue, however, might be the sheer number of shots taken.  Currently the Devils are next to last in the number of shots taken per game, at 26.5.  The only team worse is Buffalo.  Meanwhile, Chicago leads the NHL with 36 shots per game, almost 10 more than New Jersey.  The Devils may not be getting puck luck in terms of getting shots to go into the net, but they are also not putting themselves in positions to get lucky all that often.  While I know this is a brutally obvious statement, more shots on net could very well lead to more goals, something this team desperately needs.

To further showcase the lack of shooting, Damon Severson-the person with the most shots for NJ-ranks 73rd in the NHL in terms of shots taken.  The Devils' forward with the most shots, Mike Cammalleri, ranks 115th in the NHL.  This is not particularly great.  Granted the Devils have not had a high volume shooter in years, and Peter DeBoer's system limits the number of shots taken on both sides of the rink, but nonetheless I feel like some more shots would do this team some good.

Your Thoughts

What do you think about the data?  How do you interpret what the charts show?  When you look at the charts, what do you see? What do you think the Devils need to do to score more goals?  Please leave your comments in the section below, and thanks for reading.