Wayne Gretzky has the most goals (894) in NHL history. That's common knowledge among even the most casual hockey fans. But do you know who has the most assists in NHL history? It's Gretzky again, with 1,963.
Let that sink in. The game's best scorer was also its best passer.
I need to bring this up because I have decided to take up an important cause for the hockey community. I am asking fans to stop yelling, "Shoot the puck!"
Forget that this is the most overused phrase among hockey fans. More importantly, it is the most misused phrase. It is heard in arenas, bars and living rooms across the world, specifically during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is time to change that.
Why does this happen? Why do so many fans just yell at their team to just "shoot the puck?" Because shots on goal is an easy stat fans can follow and measure offense beyond goals. In the simplest sense, a team cannot score unless it puts the puck on net. Deflections and rebounds can create goals out of even the weakest shots.
But shots can also be blocked or easily saved, resulting in wasted offensive possessions. More often than not, an impulsive shot is going to send the puck in the opposite direction within moments.
An NHL offense is like a night at the bar. There is the guy who takes as many shots with girls as he can, talking to anyone who makes eye contact with him. His mentality is if he takes enough shots, the odds are he will score. Then there is the guy who is taking his time in the back of the room, playing a little hard to get. Rather than recklessly talking at the bar, he analyzes the setting and finds the potential matches he considers most compatible. While this person is not a volume shooter, he is giving himself a better chance with each shot.
When NHL teams are being patient, especially on the power play and passing back to the point, they are not trying to annoy the fans and keep the puck away from the crease. They are trying to find the passing and shooting lanes that will create the most legitimate opportunity to score.
During last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, of the final four teams left, three -- the Lightning, Blues and Sharks -- finished 11th, 12 and 13th, respectively in shots per game. These teams were efficient. Although they may not have had the best offenses in the playoffs, they made due with strong chances.
Take this Artturi Lehkonen goal from Sunday night for example. The Canadiens' youngster netted this Game 3 power-play tally at the end of a tic-tac-toe play. Lehkonen ends up with the puck in the slot for a one-time snipe. This doesn't happen if the Canadiens just "shoot the puck."
— HabsHappy: JeSuisCH (@HabsHappy) April 17, 2017
If you're an MLB fan, you hate the person who just says, "Throw strikes!" If you're an NBA fan, you hate the person who just says, "Play defense!" If you're an NFL fan, you hate the person who just says, "Make a tackle!"
Well, NHL fans can't stand "Shoot the puck!" people.
Take this as a constructive criticism. NHL players are not going to change their strategy if fans stop chanting "Shoot the puck!" But if fans limit this empty jeer, it'll just make the Stanley Cup Playoffs experience more enjoyable for all fans.
Better yet, yell, "Find a shooting or passing lane!"
Gretzky, of course, was also famous for saying, "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take." But he was smart enough to know when it was better to pass.