By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Bruins have had little trouble getting through the Senators’ neutral zone trap. They’ve had plenty of opportunities to score; the real trouble has been their inability to capitalize on them.
The possession battle between the two teams has been virtually even through four games of the series, which the Senators lead 3-1 with a chance to advance in Game 5 on Friday night in Ottawa. But the clear advantage goes to the Senators in terms of shots that actually hit the net.
The Sens lead shot attempts (in all situations) over the Bruins in the series, 222-217, according to Corsica. But there’s a bigger, much more alarming disparity in shots on goal, which the Sens lead 115-96. Ottawa has hit 51.8 percent of their shot attempts on the net, compared to 44.2 percent for the Bruins. It’s worth noting that the Senators also lead in blocked shots, 70-63.
The difference in the Senators’ lead in shots on goal vs. shot attempts can virtually be traced back directly to the performance of the Bruins’ best forwards – namely, David Pastrnak. The 20-year-old scored the game-tying goal in Game 3 at the TD Garden and has scored three points in the series, but his overall production has been underwhelming – especially in terms of shot quality.
Pastrnak has fired 21 shot attempts in the series, a respectable number on the surface. But only two of those shots have been on goal – one of them obviously went in, but overall he has hit the net at a staggeringly low rate of 9.5 percent.
By comparison, Brad Marchand has hit 11 of his 25 shot attempts on goal (44 percent). Patrice Bergeron has hit the net with 12 of 23 shot attempts (52.2 percent). And David Backes, who typically plays closer to the net than the other aforementioned players, has hit 8 of his 13 attempts for a 61.5 percent rate.
Pastrnak has been acceptably aggressive shooting the puck, but the stats bear out that he simply needs to start generating higher-quality shots if he wants to score again in this series.
It may not be totally fair to foist so much responsibility on a 20-year-old playing in his first playoff series, but the Bruins desperately need Pastrnak – now that they have to win three games in a row in order to move on in the playoffs.
Interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said as much when he addressed reporters after the Bruins’ practice on Thursday in Ottawa. Cassidy doesn’t need to tell anyone on the team that they need their shots to hit the net, but acknowledged that Pastrnak (and the Bruins as a whole) need to be better in that department.
“[Pastrnak’s] a dynamic player that relies on his one-on-one [skills],” said Cassidy. “We’ve seen that. When it goes well, it’s enjoyable; when it doesn’t, you want him to take a different approach. Certainly, that’s part of his game where I think he can be better. … Obviously, hitting the net is important. He’ll be the first to tell you he’s trying to hit the net.
“That’s where, as a whole, our team needs some second-chance opportunities. I think we’ve been lacking in that area. It starts with our shot total. Sometimes we’ll be down because of the way [an opponent] plays, but some of it is on us to hit the net and get some second chances. I think that’s where, as a team, we’ll try to focus a little more.”
The Bruins and Senators’ shooting stats in the series so far show how advanced puck possession metrics like Corsi can be misleading at times. It’s certainly a valuable tool for telling who’s shooting and possessing the puck more, but it almost never tells the whole story. It doesn’t take into account the quality of the shot attempts being made; in Corsi-Land, all shot attempts are created equal.
In bearing out the shots that actually hit the net, it’s clear that the Senators’ quality of shot attempts has been markedly higher than that of the Bruins, even though the overall possession stats are relatively equal.
For the most part, the Senators’ trap hasn’t been the issue. The Bruins have mostly cracked that code. But when they’ve gotten the puck deep into the offensive zone, rushes have often fizzled out as the Sens collapsed on them and smothered most of the limited scoring chances they’ve had.
Pastrnak’s mind-numbingly low ratio of shots on goal to shot attempts is something of an outlier among the rest of the team – but an unfortunate one, considering he scored 34 goals in the regular season and the Bruins were going to need more production from him to have a chance of winning even one playoff series.
For Pastrnak and the Bruins as a team, the effort has mostly been there. The chances have been there. But if they don’t start finishing them in a hurry, the Senators are going to send them to an early exit. The Senators have been able to capitalize on a lot of their best chances; it’s time for the Bruins to finish theirs.
Listen to 98.5 The Sports Hub for coverage of tonight’s Bruins-Senators Game 5, starting with pregame at 7:00 p.m.!
Individual stats & figures courtesy Hockey-Reference.com.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at email@example.com.