I'd like to start by briefly noting that this post began as a comment on Justin's earlier post about the Pens' troubles, and should be viewed in that context. If you haven't read that post, go read it now, and come back when you're done; you'll be glad you did!The Fenwick numbers cited by Justin certainly confirm what we've all been seeing over the past few games - that the Pens are winning (and in some cases, dominating) the battle for offensive zone time. Yet, they've been consistently struggling to score goals. This has a lot to do with shooting percentage, but is there a reason that the shooting percentage is so bad in the first place?
In this vein, I figured I'd try to get a bead on the quality of shots the Pens have been launching the past few games. Here's the shot location chart for Sunday's game against the Devils:
In this game, there were an enormous number of perimeter shots taken, but only four or five shots from truly dangerous locations (i.e. within the triangle formed by the two faceoff dots and the net).
Here is the one for Tuesday's Senators game:
In the Sens game, the number of shots dropped by a dozen, but the quality of the shot locations seems to improve greatly. About seven or eight shots come from within the slot/triangle, and there aren't nearly as many perimeter shots.
Finally, here is the one for yesterday's tilt with the Caps:
Same number of shots as the Sens game, but the quality resembles that of the Devils game. Only four shots from within that triangle, and a few more from the high slot; the rest come from the perimeter.
So, what do these charts tell us? From what I've observed, although the Pens have done a good job of getting possession of the puck in the attacking zone and keeping it, opposing teams have done an equally good job of keeping the Pens to the outside, forcing shots to come from the point instead of the best scoring areas. Furthermore, the Pens' ability to create chances off the rush has been lacking; aside from Malkin, the open-ice skill and passing ability necessary to create such chances just isn't present. The charts above seem to support these assertions.
What's the solution, then? Well, more perimeter shots will go in if, as several people have mentioned, the Pens can maintain a better net-front presence. No personnel problem here - we just need to get more traffic in front of opposing goaltenders. Scoring off the rush is a little trickier, though. Short of getting Crosby, Staal, and Letang back, the only way we're going to improve this area of our game is to activate defensemen in the rush more (which we haven't done nearly as much as usual in the last several games).
This might seem a bit counterintuitive; shouldn't the Pens be playing a tighter, more conservative/defensive game, given the players we're lacking at the moment? The way I see it, however, it's just the reverse; since we have fewer players with elite scoring ability in the lineup, more guys simply have to generate more scoring chances than they're accustomed to - and that's not what's been happening lately. In fact, it's been just the opposite; guys like Martin, Engelland, and Lovejoy have been conspicuously absent on rushes for the past several games (Lovejoy's goal against New Jersey aside). This, I think, is the main obstacle preventing the Pens from scoring off the rush (and, by extension, scoring in general). Hopefully this problem will correct itself quickly; otherwise, the only solution is to wait for our skill to come back.