The NHL slap shot is dying. Should some one-timers be the next to go?

We have concluded the NHL‘s standalone slap shot is dying. Some one-timers should also be on life support.

That may surprise those who consider the one-timer a must-have option in an offensive toolbox. That is partly true.

Consider the left-elbow power-play one-timer that Alex Ovechkin has turned into artwork. According to tracking by Clear Sight Analytics, between the start of the 2020-21 season and Nov. 18, such five-on-four one-timers, when preceded by a cross-ice pass below the hash marks, go in 35.4 percent of the time, leaguewide.

Different data, though, illustrates how other one-timers now qualify as irrelevant.

Take, for example, the one-timer from above the tops of the circles with no traffic in front. Even when a musclebound shooter like Adam Pelech leans into such a shot, it’s where offense can go to die.

According to Clear Sight Analytics, from the start of the 2020-21 season through Nov. 18, there were 4,288 unscreened one-timers taken in all situations from above the tops of the circles. Only 30 went in. That translates to a .993 save percentage.

Put another way, the high unscreened one-timer has a 0.6 percent chance of becoming a goal. Clear Sight Analytics defines a high-percentage scoring chance as one that occurs 20 percent or more of the time.

“Do they score? Yes,” says John Healy, Clear Sight Analytics’ vice president for data collection. “Do they score often? Very short answer: no.”

You may believe a fast-moving one-timer that doesn’t go in produces follow-up action. The data says otherwise.

Only 159 of the 4,288 one-timers (3.7 percent) produced shots off rebounds. Those follow-up shots turned into 40 goals. The high one-timer is simply too easy for a goalie to catch or steer into safe ice.

“We all get impressed by it,” Healy says. “But then you realize these shots in a game just don’t go in. Everything above the top circles, especially if the goalie sees it, he’s going to save it.”

The more data you study, the story remains the same. Take the one-timer launched from below the tops of the circles and outside the faceoff dots: 5,609 shots taken, 232 goals scored (4.1 percent). Even on the power play, the numbers hold steady: 1,910 one-timers taken, 81 goals scored (4.2 percent).

“I think that actually makes sense,” Healy says of the low-percentage nature of such power-play one-timers. “Because that’s a very easy, predictable read. Because a lot of teams have been using that Ovechkin-type spot for a number of years. It’s an anticipatory read for the goalie.”

In some cases, offenses can turn predictability upside down. Penalty kills know, for example, that the Bruins like to set up David Pastrnak for power-play one-timers at the left elbow. If Pastrnak starts games with his typical puck-pounding, it can open up other options.

Against the Canucks on Nov. 13, Pastrnak loaded up for a one-timer. Goaltender Thatcher Demko squared up to the shot he thought was coming. Instead, Pastrnak slap-passed the puck to Patrice Bergeron in the high slot. Bergeron redirected it past Demko.

Against the Flyers on Nov. 17, Pastrnak spotted Jake DeBrusk available at the far post. As Carter Hart squared up to Pastrnak, the right wing slapped a pass to DeBrusk for a backdoor goal.

In both cases, it was like a football team running the ball early. It doesn’t matter if such rushes produce minimal yardage if they set up a play-action pass for a touchdown.

“You have to honor the shot for the goalie,” Bruins coach Jim Montgomery says. “For the defensive players too, a lot of times they want to try and block that shot. So sometimes when you’re blocking a shot, you open up lanes committing to the shot, passing lanes. Pasta’s gifted at knowing if he has the shot lane or passing lane.”

The solution to empty-calorie one-timers, then, may be wrist shots. Healy sees four benefits:

1. Teammates may be more willing to get in front of a slower-velocity wrister than a buzzing slapper. Specifically with point shots, bodies in front are required to make life harder on goalies, either by filling their sightlines or tipping pucks. Montgomery, for example, wants two forwards inside the dots on point shots.

2. By taking a moment to handle the puck and study the landscape instead of ripping a head-down one-timer, a shooter at the point expands his offensive portfolio. The best, like defensemen Cale Makar and Adam Fox, buy time for themselves to create shooting lanes and for their teammates to occupy them. By using the precision of a wrister, they can steer pucks more accurately around shot blockers.

Consider this Alex Killorn deflection of a Mikhail Sergachev shot. Sergachev could have one-timed the puck after receiving a pass from Blake Coleman. Instead, Sergachev walked the blue line, waited for his teammates to converge on the net and placed his shot where he wanted.

“Instead of taking the time to wind up, which now gives the shot blocker time to get in the lane, if I just hold my stick down on the puck ready to shoot, now I’ve got more control over which side of the net I want to shoot at, based on where the goalie’s head is and based on where the players in front are screening,” Healy says. “It also lets me decide which way I want to shoot around the shot blocker or blockers plural in the lane. All that time you’re taking to wind up is giving you less time, actually, to make your decision of all those little nuanced details.”

3. A slower wrist shot can produce more secondary action. If a sizzling one-timer glances off a shin pad, it might go into a corner. Even worse, it could carom the other way and produce a breakaway chance.

In comparison, a long-distance muffin may not go in. But if it thuds off a net-front defenseman’s pants, the rebound would remain in high-danger ice.

“I can chunk something slowly, get a screen, get a deflection,” Healy says. “Now even if it gets blocked, it’s more likely that it’s going to stay there. Even if the goalie makes the save, maybe he’s not able to stick it or take it with his blocker and send it to the corner. He’s fighting it off. That puck is sitting in a much more dangerous area.”

4. The chances of a shooter’s stick breaking with a wrist shot are lower than with a one-timer.

Hockey remains an instinctual game. The availability of clear-as-day data, though, should motivate coaches to encourage certain plays and discourage others.

“The message has to be as broad or concise as it needs to be based on your team and your level of players,” Healy says. “So if you think your guys can handle more variations of a rule, then I think you can put a few stipulations in. I think the bottom line is, ‘We don’t take one-timers from above the top circle as a team.’”

It would then be up to the players to listen.

(Top photo of Justin Faulk: Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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