Capitals

Capitals

How often do you watch the Caps and find yourself yelling at them to shoot more? You’re not alone.

Last season, Washington finished dead last in the NHL in shots on goal with only 29.0 per game. But, that wasn’t some glaring problem in the team’s offense - it was by design.

The Capitals adopted a new offensive philosophy last season from an unexpected source - Scott Murray, who was named the team’s goalie coach in 2017-18 after serving the previous four seasons as the goalie coach of the Hershey Bears. When he came to the NHL, he brought with him a new philosophy on shots that went against the traditional thinking that more shots meant more possession and more chances. 

Instead, Murray convinced the team to focus on quality shots over quantity.

“Where it came from was being a goaltender and understanding what was easy and what was hard, what built confidence and what broke it,” Murray told NBC Sports Washington. “It's no different than any teams around the league, they're just trying to make it hard on defenders and goalies.”

Rather than focusing on generating shots, the team began to focus more on generating higher quality shots and setting up for quality opportunities.

That may seem like common sense, but what if that meant getting outshot on most nights?

There is an underlying belief in hockey that when one team outshoots another, they are controlling play. Encouraging a team to take on an offensive philosophy that will mean getting outshot on most nights requires a buy-in from the players.

 

Luckily for Murray and the other coaches, the players were listening.

“That’s pretty common sense when you think about it,” Braden Holtby said.

“It doesn't make a ton of sense for me to take a wrist shot from the blue line if there's not a screen,” Matt Niskanen said. “Maybe one out of 300, 400 is going in, especially with my shot. You can shoot to create if there's traffic around and stuff, but just in general, shooting just to shoot isn't a good philosophy I don't think. That kind of gets lost in the analytics crowd. It just doesn't make whole lot of sense to just waste it."

“If you're shooting to create something then obviously that's different. If you have to score it or the rebound or something happens from the shot turns dangerous, then yeah, that's a good play. But no screen, no one-timer, shot from a distance, doesn't make a lot of sense to get a plus-one Corsi on that shot.”

So it’s not that the Caps’ offensive philosophy is to not shoot. It’s to shoot smarter.

“It was never about don't take shots,” Murray said, “It was just try to produce as much quality as possible and being a goaltender, make goalies work as much as possible, make them make good saves.”

After one season, it certainly seems as if Murray was on to something.

While the Caps may have finished last in shots on goal, they finished ninth in goals per game, won the Metropolitan Division and went on to win the Stanley Cup. This season, the team currently ranks 15th in shots on goal per game, but first in offense scoring at an incredible rate of 4.25 goals per game.

Now other teams are adopting a similar philosophy.

“I think you see the game going that way a bit,” Holtby said. “Quality of chances are going up, especially the percentage of them. It used to be probably you'd get two Grade A chances out of 10 shots or so. Now it's probably closer to five. People are learning how to score more, create goals more. It's not as individual skill-based or anything like that, it's more team, moving screens, lateral plays, those type of things.”

Now that other teams are taking a similar approach of quality over quantity, the trick will be finding a new way to stay ahead of the pack.

“It's making sure we stay one step ahead of everyone else and I think we did a good job of that last year,” Holtby said. “And it's going to be a good challenge this year.”

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