Why Shots on Goal is a Useless Stat

Why Shots on Goal is a Useless Stat


As I’m sitting here writing this article, the Toronto Maple Leafs are leading the league in one offensive category, “shots on goal”. They currently sit in a tie for last in points with the Carolina Hurricanes at 15, and have sole possession of last place in the wins department with 4. (source for stats at NHL.com) ((click s/g to sort by shots on goal leaders))

The point of this article isn’t to point out the Maple Leafs struggles (you can find plenty of articles beating that point to death) but rather to illustrate just how old, and frankly useless, the “shots on goal” stat really is.

For any hockey fans who witnessed the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Islanders Monday night, you watched the Leafs barrage the  Islander goaltender Dwayne Roloson with 61 shots on net. In fact, the Leafs out-shot the Islanders by an almost 3-1 margin (61-21 to be exact), and still found themselves on the losing end of a 4-3 win for the Islanders.

If “shots on goal” is an accurate stat to gauge how the game was played, how can this outcome be explained? How can a team last in the standings be leading in shots on goal, if shots on goal is really a relevant stat?

It should be pointed out that Roloson did play exceptionally well but that can’t always be the case, and isn’t. The Leafs have made a bunch of goalies look really  good this year so far.  The reality is that the Leafs have adopted the Jason Blake mentality of shooting everything on net and hoping for the best. Outside of Phil Kessel, most Leaf shots on net really have little chance of beating an NHL calibre goaltender cleanly, and more resemble a little kid throwing punches at his big brother, who has his hand on kid brothers forehead and is never really in any danger of being hit.

Throwing pucks on net, trying to score dirty goals is a common mantra for a team that is struggling offensively. It’s understandable that the Leafs are trying to get pucks to the net, create traffic and maybe chip a couple rebounds past the opposing goaltender, given their lack of skilled forwards, to create legitimate scoring chances.

What I find hard to understand is why shots on goal is a stat worth keeping. Surely there are better measuring sticks with which to judge the way a game unfolded. “Scoring chances” is a better indicator but leaves too much room for interpretation.

I think that puck possession is the best indicator to decide who really had control of the game and dictated play but you rarely hear this stat being mentioned during a televised game. Instead, all the talk last night was about all the pucks being directed at the Islanders net, futile as they were.