With accurate shot location tracking, Sportlogiq has found that nearly half of all goals in the NHL are scored from the ‘inner slot’ area, very close to the net. Logically then; you want players getting into that area as often as possible to get a better chance to score, however what holds true for the average NHLer doesn’t always hold out for everyone.
As it turns out, the players who score at elite rates don’t get to the inner slot at nearly the rate of the average fourth liner. It seems backwards, to think that Devante Smith-Pelly would take a higher percentage of his shots from the highest scoring area than Vladimir Tarasenko, but that happens to be the case. I looked at Tarasenko specifically recently, and he isn’t an outlier.
Let’s look at the top-five goal scorers over the past four seasons, and where they shoot the puck from.
The single greatest goal scorer of this era, and maybe of all time, Alex Ovechkin doesn’t shoot from the inner slot very often. Almost half his shot attempts come with him set up on the left side, more often outside the slot than inside it. In fact only 38.5 per cent of Ovechkin’s shot attempts are within the slot. Based on shot locations alone, you would be reasonable to call Ovechkin a perimeter player, yet he leads the NHL in goals every year, I don’t think anyone is going to be telling Ovechkin how to score goals.
Steven Stamkos’ shot locations are a bit more varied than Ovechkin, and he shoots slightly more often from the slot at 40.5 per cent, but again you could reasonably call Stamkos a perimeter shooter. One interesting thing about Stamkos is how often he shoots from the centre point, an area that has a higher conversion rate than outside the slot in the North East or North West. Stamkos’ median shot distance, represented by the blue line, is slightly closer to the net than Ovechkin’s, and his per cent of shots on net, the blue percentage, is higher as well. Stamkos may be a slightly more efficient shooter, but shot volume favours Ovechkin by a wide, wide margin.
Tyler Seguin’s shot locations are very similar to Ovechkin’s shooting a ton from the left wing, though even fewer of his shot attempts come from within the slot, just 35.3 per cent, and his median shot distance is even further out. However Seguin’s accuracy, or percent of shot attempts on net, is slightly higher than Stamkos, suggesting that even when shooting from a distance, Seguin is excellent at getting his shots through.
Max Pacioretty shoots more within the slot than his counterparts, with 43 per cent of his shot attempts coming from there. The gap between Pacioretty and other top scorers in shot attempts from the slot is almost entirely within the inner slot, and he also has the highest level of accuracy, getting 61.2 per cent of his shot attempts on net. Pacioretty’s shot locations aren’t especially close to the net compared to the NHL average, however based on them he can not be called a perimeter player.
Joe Pavelski is the outlier among the NHL’s best scorers, as he shoots far more from the inner slot and from far closer to the net than league average, notching 53.1 per cent of his shot attempts from within the slot. But it’s important to note the differing style between the other top scorers in the NHL, and Pavelski. All of Ovechkin, Stamkos, Seguin, and Pacioretty are sniper-type players, and while Pavelski can shoot the puck well; he is also the NHL’s reigning deflection king.
No player has deflected more pucks on net over the last two seasons in total, or per 20 minutes than Joe Pavelski, meaning his role is very different than these other players.
What does this all mean?
For the average hockey player, getting as close as possible to the net to take your shots is the best way to give yourself a chance to score. However for the players who are elite at putting the puck in the net, shot location doesn’t matter as much as simple getting your shot off. If Alex Ovechkin has the puck outside the slot and could possibly lose the puck by trying to beat players to the inside, sometimes the smart thing to do is to take that perimeter shot, because he’s Ovechkin.
What makes the greatest goal scorers in the game so special isn’t that they break into the inner slot to rip high danger chances at such a high rate, it’s that they don’t need to.