Minnesota senior forward Kyle Rau summed up last weekend for the Gophers by saying, "We had a lot of shots, but when you look at the chart I could have saved half of them."
It's true. The Gophers did have a lot of shots. Minnesota players took a combined 91 shots on goal in the two games - a 3-2 loss to Merrimack and 3-2 overtime win over RIT- and that's only the shots on goal. The team controlled possession against its opponents at the Mariucci Classic, attempting enough shots to make Lil Jon happy.
At the same time, even if the Gophers were facing two hot goalies those netminders having a .945 save percentage was made easier by from where the shots came.
On the surface, having so many shot attempts is a good thing. It shows that Minnesota has been controlling play and maintaining puck possession despite scoring five goals in a weekend. Puck possession has never been more en vogue on the minds of fans and writers. (This includes college hockey where Jashvina Shah of College Hockey News has been tracking Corsi in the Big Ten on a weekly basis.) Right now websites like War On Ice and the deceased Extra Skater are dedicated to tracking shot attempts in hockey. Advanced stats like Corsi (a team's combined shots on goal, missed shots and blocked shots) and Fenwick (same as Corsi just taking away blocked shots) have been becoming mainstream.
And it's something Rau knows. Kind of. When I spoke with him about advanced stats before the season, he had never heard about Corsi or Fenwick as stats, but spoke about puck possession and the importance of it being ingrained into his play.
Head coach Don Lucia made similar comments about his team's play after both games. Shot attempts are important over the season, allowing for goalie Adam Wilcox to face fewer shots Yet Minnesota's players, playing on an Olympic ice sheet, were unable to get near the net and rebounds for much of the weekend.
While I'd love to see the senior forward strap on some goalie pads and try to actually stop half of Minnesota's weekend shots because that sounds entertaining (though guessing Rau doesn't stop Justin Kloos on this one), the point about where the shots came from was good enough to look into instead. Thankfully, Minnesota and college hockey track scoring chances - where on the ice and by whom - so I don't have to go back and do it manually.
When looking at the numbers, the shot attempts and Corsi look great. Minnesota had more shot attempts in every period. A couple were dominant on a weekend where no team had a two-goal lead.
Minnesota Shot Attempts Versus Merrimack & RIT
1st Period: 19 for Minnesota (17 even strength) vs. 10 for Merrimack (all even strength)
2nd Period: 28 (17 even strength - 4/5 in slot (2 on PP)7 in home plate) vs. 20 (18 even strength)
3rd Period: 31 (all even strength) (4 in slot, 6 low and all even strength) vs. 9 (9 even strength)
Total: 78-39 Minnesota (SOG was 42-17 Gophers)
1st Period: 27 for Minnesota (20 even strength) vs. 10 for RIT (all even strength)
2nd Period: 29 (21 even strength) vs. 15 (11 even strength)
3rd Period: 32 (23 even strength) vs. 17 (16 even strength)
OT: 4 in 2:34 (all 4 even strength) vs. 1 (0 even strength)
Total: 92-43 Minnesota (SOG was 49-21 Gophers)
So what went wrong?
Namely what Rau said. Saves happen, as do hot goalies. (This is a good time to point out Merrimack's Rasmus Tirronen was great both against Minnesota and UMass-Lowell. The Warriors were heavily out-shot in both games. If it weren't for Dylan Zink's goal with under four minutes remaining, Merrimack had a chance to win the tournament.) In a way, this weekend was different than previous losses - and some wins - because of the shot metrics. Although the loss to Merrimack and frustration comes from a stretch of three wins since November 7th, this wasn't the same weekend sweep against Minnesota-Duluth.
But it's easier to score the closer to the net. Short of that being reinforced in the first period of both games and overtime on Saturday the Gophers didn't do in large numbers.
Of Merrimack's three goals, all three were below the dots while Minnesota's closest was at a face-off circle. In fairness, Tirronen did make a couple Grade A saves, however, the total shot attempts were by a 78-39 margin.
Here are Minnesota's shot attempts in the slot and those in the "home plate" area, which is made by going from the face-off dots to the midpoint on the blue line with a diagonal line (aka look at the shape of home plate).
Minnesota vs. Merrimack:
1st Period: 19 (5 in slot, 7 in home plate) vs. 10 (1 in slot) [was Merrimack's goal]
2nd Period: 28 (4/5 in slot (2 on PP), 7 in home plate) vs. 20 (3 in slot) [1 was Merrimack's goal]
3rd Period: 31 (4 in slot, 7 in home plate) vs. 9 (0 in slot)
Those numbers aren't exactly the ones to be proud. Minnesota had 31 attempts in the third period, but only having 6 shots below the face-off dots and 4 in the slot doesn't test Tirronen as much as the Gophers would want.
Seriously, look at where the shots came from:
Third period shot chart pic.twitter.com/fVn7zVOJq4— Gopher Hockey Stats (@GopherPuckStats) January 3, 2015
That's just one example. Saturday's second period has twice as many shot attempts yet the quality Grade A chances are similar - the Gophers have a lot of attempts above the face off circles.
RIT shots are on the left and Minnesota is on the right.
Second period shot chart pic.twitter.com/P9XB3j3TQs— Gopher Hockey Stats (@GopherPuckStats) January 4, 2015
Minnesota vs. RIT
1st Period: 27 (14 inside home plate - 11 are in slot) vs. 10 (4 in slot) [RIT goal and a post in front of net]
2nd Period: 29 (8 inside home plate - 4 are in slot) vs. 15 (3 in slot, 7 inside home plate)
3rd Period: 32 (14 inside home plate - 5 are in slot) vs. 17 (2 in slot, 7 inside home plate) [RIT goal below face-off dot]
Overtime: 4 (all 4 inside home plate)
According to postgame remarks, getting good shots and getting rebounds and tips was an emphasis Saturday. It shows in the first period. There was no better period where Minnesota got bodies in front of the net. Then it kind of slowly meandered into taking shots further away until overtime when all four shots, including a rebound winner, were close to RIT goalie Michael Rotolo.
Where did Minnesota's goals come from on the ice?
Friday: Michael Brodzinski scored from the point near the far boards on a wrist shot and Connor Reilly scored from a one-timer near the face-off dot.
The differences are there. Even Mike Reilly's goal was dead on to the center of the ice rather than being near the boards (further away on an Olympic rink than a NHL-sized one).
How were the even-strength shot attempts by line?
Glad you asked. Shots are by line and those near the net are in parenthesis.
Friday against Merrimack
11-7-21 - 3 (0)/0 (0)/8 (1)
13-25-19 - 6 (4)/1(0)/3 (1)
15-22-17 - 2 (1)/3 (1)/5 (3)
29-26-9 - 1 (0)/1 (0)/0 (0)
4-20 - 2/2/4
5-3 - 1/3/8
10-28 - 2/5 (1)/3
Some observations: The second line showed why Justin Kloos (#25) more than anyone had the best weekend to not end in a goal. Lettieri (#19), getting a chance to play on the line Friday, had a single shot attempts before being moved Saturday. Kloos had 3 Grade A chances by himself in just the first period. The second period was penalty-filled, which made it difficult for lines to get a rhythm going at even strength. Mike Reilly (#5) and Jack Glover (#3) shot a lot of pucks in the third period.
Here's the special teams where the Gophers had 4 PP chances in the second period:
Unit #1: 22-7-17; 21-5 - 0/6 (1)/0
Unit #2: 11-25-13; 10-20 0/6 (1)/0
Shorthanded chances: 3 (2 in first - AJ Michaelson (#15) and M. Reilly (#5), 1 in second - Jake Bischoff (#28))
Saturday against RIT
Minnesota got back Hudson Fasching (#24) and Ryan Collins (#6) from the World Juniors, which meant the lines were shuffled a bit from the night before. The Gophers went with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen against RIT. That meant forwards double-shifted on the fourth line although Taylor Cammarata (#13) took the role more than anyone.
11-7-21 - 4 (2)/4 (0)/6 (2) & 2 in OT
13-25-24 - 4 (2)/2 (1)/4 (0) & 2 in OT
15-22-17 3 (3)/3 (1)/5 (2)
26-19 (normally 13) - 2 (2)/4 (1)/0 (0)
4-20 - 4/1/3
5-3 - 2/4/3
10-28 - 1/1/1 (1)
6 - 0/0/1
Some observations: One of my many notes in the first was that it seemed as if Brodzinski (#20) was shooting a lot and lo and behold he had 6 of the 27 attempts (2 were for Minnesota power play - more on that in a bit). Vinni Lettieri tripled his Friday output in the second alone while his goal, a rebound attempt from fourth linemate Christian Isackson (#26), came in front of the net on the only two chances the pair had in the first period. Seth Ambroz (#17) had 7 shot attempts and all but one were below the face-off dots. Justin Kloos once again played well, having all 4 even strength shot attempts for his line in the 3rd period.
Unit #1: 24-7-21; 22-5 - 3 (1)/6 (0)/6 (0)
Unit #2: 25-11-13; 10-20 - 4 (0)/4(1)/2 (0)
Shorthanded: 1 (Travis Boyd in 3rd)
25 shot attempts on six power plays and only two were in the slot. Of course, Minnesota scored on one of those from afar, but the team also went 1-10 with the man advantage this weekend after entering the Mariucci Classic leading the nation with a 34% power play.
Even more, five of the 25 power play shots were blocked by RIT players, who had 21 total Saturday.
Now it should be said that the shot attempts by lines aren't as straight as putting numbers out there. Different lines and different players are out for different lengths. Unfortunately, there is no official Time on Ice stat for college hockey.
Where did Minnesota's shot attempts come from?
Merrimack: 21 of 78 shot attempts (26.9%) came from below the dot.
-13 were saved by Tirronen.
-None were goals.
-Two were on the power play
RIT: 37 of 92 shot attempts (40.2%) came from below the dot.
-23 were saved by Rotolo.
-Two were goals.
-Six were on the power play.
You wrote way too much Nate and there are numbers involved. What does this mean?
Overall, there is plenty to like about the weekend outside of the lack of scoring. It would be nice to get shots closer to the net too.
Minnesota did control the puck for long stretches of time and having that advantage is a good step in the right direction over the long run as the team enters Big Ten conference play. Puck possession is a good trend over a large sample size.The Gophers have had games against Duluth where its Corsi was below 40% and it's hard to separate the struggles against Merrimack and RIT to the ones it had against Northeastern (5x5 Corsi of 53.06%) and Michigan State (40.91% in December 6th's tie) to end the year. The more Minnesota can control the puck at even strength, the fewer shots it faces.
However, Rau's point remains over sixty minutes. When the number of quality shots are closer to one another in a single game, the possession advantage is not taken advantage. Minnesota did not have as many shots in the home plate area of the ice both even strength and on the power play.
Although the Gophers controlled play the entire weekend, several factors (Tirronen playing well, Merrimack making the most of its chances in prime scoring areas, and a PK that kept Minnesota away from the area in front of the net) more than evened the game Friday. Sometimes that happens in a game.
Over the long run, there is good news for a player like Justin Kloos, who had more grade A chances than anyone, in that he's getting shots and attempts from high scoring areas despite not scoring a goal this weekend. It's also why he's one goal off the team lead. Teams are going to score goals from low percentage areas, but they are called low percentage areas for a reason.
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate