You’ve got the shot that every NHL player dreams of. You’ve forced a turnover at your opponents blue line and now you’re skating towards the opposing goalie. There is nothing between you and them. As you get closer you do a little deking to move the goalie and wind up and fire. You expect the light to come on and the horn to sound, either that or the goalie to make a spectacular highlight reel save. Instead you hear the thud that only comes when the puck hits the boards or the glass. You not only missed the back of the net, you completely missed the net! Certainly someone in the stands is muttering that you can’t hit the broadside of a barn.
Not everyone can be Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby (though it has probably happened to them as well). For anyone who goes to watch the lower levels of hockey like high school, college, or even the lower pros like in the ECHL and AHL you can see a number of players who have trouble getting the puck on net. They get great looks during the game but can’t even get close to the goalie. They can’t hit the broadside of a barn. They better keep practicing.
Hockey is a game where at best all-time shooter Craig Simpson found the back of the net 23.7% of the time in his career. It is not easy to get the puck through the defense and past the goalie into the net. Elite shooters usually can find the back of the net on 12% of their shots so a deflection here or bad bounce can skew the data. The belief is that being able to get an open shot on net is a skill and actually scoring the goal is pure dumb luck. A player’s shooting percentage can be a wild ride and players can go several games between goals but most teams can survive given the sheer number of skaters that are available to score. But for all of the skaters out there if you can’t even get close to the net you will never score a goal.
There is one thing that a team cannot win without and that is good goaltending. In some cases getting a hot netminder can be the difference between missing the playoffs and hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup. Of course for all of the elites like Grant Fuhr, Dominik Hasek, Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur there were some pretty lousy goalies as well. Some, like Detroit Red Wing’s goalie Tim Cheveldae were made to look better than they were by their teammates but fizzled when playing elsewhere and never recorded a season save percentage above 90% (for the record a 91% save percentage is considered to be bad in today’s era). It is no coincidence that the Red Wings became a dynasty after Cheveldae left. A lack of good goaltenders is the only way to explain how goalies like Gilles Meloche, Rick DiPietro, Ron Low, Darren Pang, Hardy Astrom or Ken McAuley. McAuley gave up over 6 goals per game and allowed 310 goals during the 43-44 season when he was filling in while the New York Rangers’ regular goalie was serving in the army so we can’t be too hard on him. McAuley himself had just been discharged from the Canadian army so facing a slapshot at least was probably not as intimidating to him. Others with long careers and low save percentages were career backups like Damian Rhodes, Craig Billington, Andre “Red Light” Racicot, Michel Belhumeur and Gary Laskowski. These players had no business being in the NHL much less sticking around for more than 50 career games. You could get a barn past them it seems!