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Shots Through From the Top

Looking into a few comments made by the Oilers coaching staff regarding Justin Schultz.

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Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Edmonton Oilers assistant coach Jay Woodcroft was recently on Inside Sports discussing the clubs overall performance and what areas the staff has been working on with the players, including special teams. A couple comments regarding defencemen Justin Schultz caught my attention.

The one area we continue to emphasize with Justin is the willingness to continue to shoot the puck. The ability to hit the net when you do shoot the puck. And letting him know that, and encouraging him that, when you do shoot that creates offence for everybody. Even if that first shot doesn't get in, if it gets through, that's what leads to the second chance or third chance. But it's vital that that shot gets through from the top. (Source)

I suspected in the off-season, just based on his experience with the San Jose Sharks, that McLellan and his staff would push for the defencemen to shoot more and get a higher proportion of the team's total shots. The Sharks under McLellan loved dumping the puck in or getting the puck on net once they entered the zone and let all three forwards crash the net looking for rebounds. So it doesn't surprise me that Schultz is being asked to get more shots on net.

The comment about Schultz's ability to hit the net had me wondering how good (or bad) he's been at doing that this season. He has taken 33 shot attempts at even-strength this season, with one third of those being blocked. That's nothing out of the ordinary as it's around the league average among regular defencemen. What is troubling is that in the last month, he hasn't generated a lot of shots and when he does, they get blocked. Below are the last nine games including his time on ice, points, number of shot attempts and what percentage of those shot attempts were blocked (Source: War on Ice)

Date Opponent TOI Points Shot Attempts (iCF) % of Shot Attempts Blocked
12/4/2015 DAL 9.8 0 0 N/A
12/6/2015 BUF 14.2 0 1 100.00%
12/9/2015 PIT 17.6 0 0 N/A
12/11/2015 NYR 17.7 0 1 0.00%
12/14/2015 BOS 15.5 0 0 N/A
12/15/2015 NYR 12.8 1 2 100.00%
12/17/2015 CHI 15.6 0 2 100.00%
12/19/2015 COL 18.2 0 3 33.33%
12/21/2015 WPG 15 1 2 0.00%

Here were see a few games where he didn't make any shot attempts (versus Dallas, Pittsburgh and Boston), and against the Rangers and Blackhawks, all of his shot attempts were blocked. This has to be frustrating for the coaching staff as they're pushing for their defencemen to take a more active role in creating rebounds to generate scoring chances.

And since the Oilers want Schultz taking shots from the top, that likely means they don't want him pinching in the offensive zone and getting his own chances from the high danger area near the front of the net. Schultz has been one of the most active defencemen when it comes to being a finisher, even though he hasn't been at all successful at it during his career. When looking at his individual high danger chances as a proportion of all of the high danger chances he's on the ice for, he ranks near the top among defencemen year to year. In the five seasons prior to the current one, among defencemen with over 100 games played, Schultz leads the pack by a far margin shooting 9.79% of the high danger chances he's been on the ice for (with the average being 3.45%).

Season Games TOI/Gm Points % of On-ice High Danger Scoring Chances
2012/13 48 16.82 11 11.73%
2013/14 74 17.26 19 9.21%
2014/15 81 18.32 19 9.16%
2015/16 21 15.37 2 5.80%

This season however, Schultz has been on the ice for 69 high danger chances at even-strength, with only 4 of those coming from his stick. Small sample size, but that comes out to 5.8%, which is well below his career average. That number could always trend upwards, but I can't envision McLellan changing his tactics and activating defencemen to pinch in more often. What we can confirm is that the coaching staff is serious about getting defencemen shooting from the top of the zone and letting forwards cash in on rebounds.

Thoughts

We knew with a new coaching staff that things would change, but it's interesting to see how McLellan's previous tactics are impacting specialty players like Justin Schultz. In his fourth season, Schultz will have to alter his style of play that really hasn't done much for him except draw the ire of fans. He's notched two even strength points this season, and doesn't appear to have turned the corner in any way. And unfortunately for him, he doesn't have a heavy shot or success with point shots, making him a very expendable asset at the trade deadline.