The Problem with Shooting: The Penguins v. Tuukka Rask

In two out of three games (excluding Game 2 which just doesn’t count for anything) so far this series it at least SEEMS like Tuukka Rask has done what we who closely follow the Penguins were truly and accurately beginning to think was impossible to do: stop the Penguins from scoring. And after only giving up 2 goals on 110 shots against, it seems fruitless to argue otherwise.

Rask boasts a .982 save percentage in three games this series

Rask boasts a .982 save percentage in three games this series

Which is why if you ask me if Rask has stopped the Penguins from scoring I would answer you with a resounding “Hell no.” For as great as Game 3 was and as much better the Penguins played in Game 3, and even during stretches of Game 1, they currently trail this series 3-0 because they’ve forgotten how to shoot. Despite the 2 goals on 110 shots in this series the Penguins still hold a commanding lead in shooting percentage this postseason. As a complete team they are scoring on 10.6% of their shots (49 goals on 462 shots). That’s way better than the Bruins who have managed only an 8.78% rate. The Penguins also led the regular season in shooting percentage, clicking at more than 11.26%. For more on the Penguins making evaluations based on shooting success, check out this post from Cam Charron from The Score.

Using the numbers in front of us, the Penguins (and the Bruins as they prepare for the Penguins) should expect to get AT LEAST 3 goals for every 30 shots they take that make it on the net. Given their 8.78% shooting rate, the Bruins would need to expect to outshoot the Penguins by AT LEAST 4 shots, just to keep pace and hope for a tie. To earn a fourth goal, the Bruins should reasonably expect to get at least 45 shots on goal. That’s no easy task.

Now I’m sure if this post were to circulate amongst some advanced statisticians they would laugh at me and say that everything I wrote is exactly why you cannot rely on shooting percentage as an accurate measurement of team performance. They’ll tell you shooting percentage is simply “luck” and that the only accurate predictor of scoring is shots on goal, that if you outshoot your opponent you should outscore your opponent.

But if you’ve watched this series you would realize that doesn’t always hold true. Just taking any old shot does not guarantee a goal any better than anything else. The Pens have gotten a lot of shots on net, so far 11 more than the Bruins, yet they’ve been outscored 11-2. And you cannot tell me that it has been Tuukka Rask, with his 30 foot rebounds that has kept all those shots out of the net. The issue is that the Penguins have not been shooting for accuracy. How many shots have you seen the Penguins take, after great puck movement plays, that have landed square on the “B” on Rask’s jersey? That’s not accurate shooting. And when the Penguins have tried to fine tune their shots nearly every single one of them has clanged off the post. Whether it’s the right thing to do or not, the Penguins were built to be a great shooting team. It seems like in their 8 day layoff between the Conference Semis and the Conference Finals, the Penguins forgot to keep fine-tuning their shots. As such, they look downright surprising in their own zone.

Again, we aren’t indicting anyone in particular in this, but the Pens are built to shoot well, if they aren’t going to do it, they are going to have problems in the offensive zone. Surely, impressive team defense and quick lateral movements from Rask (something the Pens never see, except when they take practice against Marc-Andre Fleury) have helped to keep pucks out of the net, but even if the Pens aren’t being their own worst enemy in the defensive and neutral zones now, they still simply haven’t gotten back to “Penguins hockey” in the offensive zone, no matter what they’re zone time, shots, and passing have looked like in this series (which has very often been bad, but that’s a story for another time).

If the Penguins want to win a game in this series they either need to find their scoring touch or do everything to make Rask pay for his god-awful rebound control. So far neither have happened.

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