February 04, 2011
When the Edmonton Oilers beat the Phoenix Coyotes on Jan. 25, a line from the commentator after a Linus Omark(notes) goal struck a chord with me. Omark got a hold of the puck inches in front of the net -- in the crease, really -- and jammed it towards the net, seeing as how that was his only option from where he was standing.
The commentator declared, "He's not gonna miss from there!"
That's some wrongheaded thinking right there, good sir.
I'm sure Omark was pumped that puck went in because it was somewhat lucky (as most grinderiffic goals are) -- he'd far rather have some separation between himself and the net when he has the chance to score.
Against good goaltenders you increase your odds of scoring by shooting from farther out. Of course, there's a limit to just how far out, but if your options are two feet or 20, smart-shooters choose 20.
Sure, this only applies to players with good shots, but it's safe to say nearly every player in the NHL has one of those.
It doesn't take long to notice how often players are pulling the trigger from a spot a little higher in the slot these days. In my chat with Vancouver Canucks forward Jeff Tambellini(notes), I highlighted his effectiveness in the shootout, and ran a couple clips. If you check those out, you'll notice that the puck is off his stick before he gets to the hashmarks.
When goaltenders are farther out, they're less aware of where they are in the net. A small adjustment to your stick or body position (such as pulling the puck a foot closer to your body before the snap shot) can force a goaltender to shuffle, which can open him up. And if you can hit your spot and shoot it hard, you just have so many more options based on angles.
But the biggest reason for taking that shot a second or two earlier is the size of these guys in net today -- as we all know, they're getting gargantuan. The closer you skate to them the easier it is for them to get into the make-yourself-as-big-as-possible butterfly mode and eclipse the entire net like moon passing in front of the sun, yet most amateur players feel the need to get on top of the guy before thinking about taking a shot.
Part of the reason for that is, those amateur players have absolutely no idea how long it takes them to get a shot off (hint: forever), so they leave themselves with no net to hit.
If you ran a drill with most rec leaguers and said, "Skate in from center and shoot the puck from the top of the circles," the vast majority of players wouldn't release the puck until past the hashmarks.
They don't start to shoot until they get to where they want to shoot from, so by the time they decide to take a wrist-shot and do the classic hockey school roll-it-from-heel-to-toe thing, a few seconds have passed and has taken them out of their intended shooting zone, like they've forgotten they're moving. And when they choose to take a ceiling-scraping slapshot? They might run into the goalie.
Most professional players -- think Jarome Iginla(notes) of the Calgary Flames as example A1 -- are able to get off a snapshot in a span of 1-2 feet from intent to release, so goalies barely have time to do think, "OK, he's shooting, I better set."
The goal is to not let the goalie have time to set, because shooting early is from the same school of thought as a one-timer: You don't necessarily have to hit your spot if the goalie isn't in his.
A quick, early shot is more likely to score six or seven hole (armpits), and can be whizzing past a goaltenders ears before he realizes you're pulling the trigger if you do manage to place it well.
A big part of goal scoring isn't shot placement or speed, it's in realizing that goaltenders are humans too (somewhat); and putting them in the most difficult position possible to succeed at their jobs helps you succeed at yours.