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Pass or Shoot? The Jammed Artillery in Nashville


Photo Credit: John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

Sitting at 27th in the league at shots forced in a game, Nashville isn’t really the shining example of a team that likes to shoot the puck a lot. However, this hasn’t necessarily been a detriment for the Predators, who sit tied with five other teams for 5th place in the Western Conference. Posting a record of 7-4-2 when being outshot by their opponents as opposed to a 1-0-1 record when outshooting them, the Predators live and die on the defensive aspect of their game.

The most interesting fact about their 25.8 average shots per game is where the team leaders sit on the stat sheet. The top 6 players statistically on Nashville’s roster also lead the team in shots (Smith, Weber, Hornqvist, Wilson, Suter, Legwand). While only 8 players on Nashville’s team have over 20 shots, the only Predators player over 20 shots who isn’t in the top 10 in scoring on the team is Jordin Tootoo, who has 21 shots and only 3 assists on the season.

Currently, there are 42 players in the NHL who have registered 50 or more shots on net. The average point total for these players is roughly 13 total points, which would be nearly a point-per-game average. Craig Smith is the only Nashville player included in that list of 42 (51 shots). All but 6 teams (STL, PHI, EDM, BOS, DAL, FLA) have a player with 50+ shots, however Colorado has the most with 5 at the moment (Landeskog, Hejduk, Winnik, Quincey, Stastney).

Although Nashville is finding ways to win even when being outshot, the Predators know they have to get more shots on net. Late in October, Niclas Bergfors (who is averaging about 1 shot per every game he plays) went on record saying, “We just need to bear down and shoot the puck. We don’t really shoot the puck a lot.” Conversely, while Bergfors is averaging 1 shot a game, Craig Smith’s 3+ shot-per-game average has him in the top 50 in the league in points scored and leading the league in points for all rookie skaters.

See what an extra 2 or so shots a game per player can get you?

Half of the Nashville Predators players who have played in at least one game this season are under 15 shots this season and all but two of those 12 have registered more shots than games played (Erat with 14 shots in 8 games and Bergfors with 11 shots in 10 games). Although one could argue that Nashville’s “wait for the perfect shot” strategy pays off with Sergei Kostitsyn’s 3 goals on 10 shots, however the majority of players in the NHL may not have Kostitsyn’s accuracy.

Nashville’s powerplay suffers the most from their pass-happy approach, as they’ve dipped down to 19th in the league in powerplay percentage. Some fans inside the Bridgestone Arena have even made a game out of counting the number of passes Nashville attempts on their powerplay before attempting to register a shot on the net.

Wayne Gretzky once famously said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.” Craig Smith adheres to that. Some of Nashville’s players have started to read into that a bit more as well and are putting more shots on the opposing goaltender on game-nights, however what would happen if all of their roster decided to refrain from passing up a good shooting opportunity? The stats don’t lie, players who shoot the puck more often tend to have more points (yes, you can thank me later for my John Madden-esque sentence).

The Predators have never finished higher than 12th in the league in shots forced in their franchise history. Could the new wave of youth that is invigorating Nashville’s lineup change this in the near future? It doesn’t look like it at the near-quarter mark of the 2011-2012 season, but as Nashville proves year in and year out: Anything is possible.