Don’t Just Shoot
9:43 AM EDT on June 15, 2021
Come clean; you've done it too. You've sat in the nosebleeds, watching your team cycle the puck around in the offensive zone, perhaps as the precious seconds tick off the power play. You've grown steadily enraged by your team's seeming unwillingness to take a shot, and you've wanted to audibly encourage them to throw the puck on net—hey, you never know what sort of deflection it might take right? So you've yelled, with the other drunks and ninnies, "SHOOOOOOOT!!!" And you meant it, too.
But then maybe a vague wave of shame washed over you. You've just taken part in the second dumbest action a fan can do. (First, of course, is to taunt a player so intensely he comes into the crowd and beats you with his own shoe. Try not to do that either.) Do you think you, the fool in the 400 level, have discovered the secret to hockey that every player and every coach in the history of the game could not crack? Did your fourth beer open your third eye? To yell "SHOOOOOOOT" is seductive, because good things only happen after shots (which, note, is not the same thing as saying "only good things happen after shots"). You miss 100 percent of the ones you don't take and all that. But you also know deep down, don't you, that you miss 99 percent of the crappy shots you do take? And that you often turn the puck over, so bad things can happen too? And that not all shots are created equal? I'm gonna show you a couple angles from the Vegas Golden Knights' second goal in their 4-1 win over Montreal in Game 1 of their semifinal series. You'll probably want to print out this blog, and fold it up, and carry it around in your wallet as a reference, or perhaps just as a reminder, for the next time you're tempted to yell "SHOOOOOOOT." Because just imagine if you had been doing it here, and Shea Theodore had listened to you:
Not the worst angle for Theodore, a defenseman who indeed loves to shoot but wisely does not take his coaching from you. Not the best angle, either. The goalie is on his skates and locked in on the puck and facing it broadside, and the Canadiens have defensemen in position to block a shot or clean up a rebound. Theodore could shoot. Or, he could fake, and pass over to Alec Martinez:
Alec Martinez doesn't need you to yell SHOOT. Trust me, he knows.
Vegas's defense—traditionally the unit that hears the bulk of the SHOOT chants—was peppering Carey Price all night, but more importantly, they weren't doing so haphazardly. And they were rewarded for it. VGK's blueliners combined for 17 shots on the evening, with three goals and three assists. Those same numbers for Montreal's defensemen? Zero, zero, and zero. It's no exaggeration to say the two units were the difference in the result, in a number of ways even beyond who scored the goals.
The Canadiens' defense has been forced to reshuffle in the absence of Jeff Petry, and it's revealed some potentially fatal vulnerabilities. Erik Gustafsson was an outright liability, and his turnover and inability to clear the ice in front of Price led to Vegas's first goal, a smoker from Theodore. (Please note the screen set by Mark Stone on that goal; Price never laid eyes on that puck until it was soaring past him. Theodore's 100 mph one-timer is nice, yes, but it's also evidence for smarter shots rather than more shots.) Brett Kulak, a lefty, is playing on the right side, and failed to box out Mattias Janmark from slotting home a loose puck in front for Vegas's third goal. These defensive deficiencies forced the Habs to ride their top pairing of Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot (who is also playing out of position) to the point of exhaustion; the two each had more than 25 minutes of ice time, and were at the end of a long shift when Nick Holden sealed things for Vegas with 10 minutes left in the game. Chiarot was absolutely washed for that one.
Montreal has some reasons to feel good about Game 1, even if the final score doesn't suggest optimism. They created chances around the net, as they've been doing all spring—they just didn't finish, with due credit to Marc-Andre Fleury. Price looked good, and fully capable of stealing games if his defense can keep things clear in front of him. But Vegas's chances were simply of too high quality: they did the little things, away from the puck, that turn hail Marys into high-danger shots. The Knights didn't get more shots than the Habs, they got better ones.
So let's roll that Theodore fake into the Martinez goal on a wide-open net.
If fans in the building were yelling SHOOT at Theodore when the puck came to him all alone at the top of the circles, they should be thankful he was listening, but to Martinez and not to them. "I was going to shoot it," Theodore admitted, "but he was yelling at me pretty good.”