Making the case for Henrik to start shooting

The Sedins have emerged as true stars the past 2 seasons, dominating offensively and taking their collective game to new heights. No doubt back-to-back Art Rosses, a Hart and a Ted Lindsay are all the evidence required of this. But we saw in this year's playoffs that shutting down the Sedins entirely - limiting them to next-to-no production - is entirely possible. Boston and Nashville in particular (injuries aside) did phenomenal jobs of containing the Sedins and keeping them to the perimeter rather than allow them to set up their patented cycle or anything much offensively for that matter. Whether that speaks to the predictability of the Sedins offensively or simply a fantastic defensive effort by the Bruins and Predators is tough to say, but considering two teams managed to do so with remarkable efficiency, I'd lean slightly towards the former. Fact is the Sedins needed to adapt to the defensive setup of the Bruins and Predators, but didn't. And come this season and playoffs, we could very well see the same defensive game from other teams to continue to shut down the Sedins.

Which is why I believe the Sedins should adapt and grow their game with a simple change - get Henrik to start shooting.

The instinctive response to such an idea is likely something like "why bother? Henrik should just focus on passing and Daniel on shooting." I disagree. I believe that having Henrik focus on his shot over the off-season, and to use that shot much more frequently in-game, would allow the Sedins to become more dynamic, unpredictable and lethal than ever before.

Consider Sidney Crosby. In his first 4 seasons, Crosby averaged 37 goals (over the course of an 82-game season) and 3.2 shots per game - fantastic numbers by NHL standards, sure, but keep in mind Crosby was also averaging nearly 75 assists a season over that same period, so it should be quite clear potting goals was not his primary mindset. Then came the summer of 2009, where Crosby reportedly spent a great deal of time working on his shot. The result? Since that summer, Crosby has averaged 56 goals a season and 3.8 shots per game (accompanied by 62 assists a season on average). His average point total per season also increased from 112 per season (pre-summer-of-2009) to 117 per season (post-summer). Crosby grew his offensive arsenal that summer by focusing on goal-scoring more than before, and his injury-shortened 2010-11 season of 32 goals and 66 points in 41 games is evidence enough that it worked brilliantly for him.

Perhaps an example a little closer to home - Ryan Kesler - will help solidify this point. While Kesler does not have as large a sample size for comparison, consider the contrast between his 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons. In 2009-10, Kesler managed only 25 goals, shooting an average of 2.6 times per game and with an 11.8% shooting percentage. During the summer of 2010, Kesler spent time improving his shot, and as we all saw over the past year, his wrist shot has become an absolute laser with at-times pinpoint accuracy. The result of his improved shot was 41 goals, 3.2 shots per game and a 15.8% shooting percentage. Kesler began focusing more on goal-scoring, and he became a far more dangerous offensive weapon as a result. Had he had some quality wingers on his sides (no offense to Raymond and Samuelsson / Higgins), who knows how gaudy his offensive numbers could have been (same goes for Crosby).

Now for every example of a player growing his offensive toolset for the better, there is one who does not adapt and tails off as a result. Alex Ovechkin, for example, has become fairly predictable in his offensive game - he often neglects his teammates, preferring individualist efforts to score. Now this worked quite well for Ovechkin in his first 4 seasons - mostly because he is simply a phenomenally talent and can get away with playing 1-on-5 hockey much more often than most. However, this past season, teams finally seemed to figure out how to defend Ovechkin, and as a result his goal total dropped by 43% from his prior career average, and his point total by 22%. While still over a point-a-game in 2010-11, his numbers are hardly as dominant as they once were. It's pretty clear that Ovechkin's game has been more-or-less figured out, and he has been unwilling to adapt by learning to use his teammates more. Of course, should he do so at some point soon, Ovechkin could return to be the dominant force he once was again.

Point is that in order for star players to remain stars and maintain a consistent level of offense throughout their respective careers, they must be dynamic - willing to adapt when it becomes clear they must, and possessing a diverse arsenal of offensive tools that allow them to do so. Crosby and Kesler have done so - adapted when necessary - whereas Ovechkin has not/

How does this pertain to Henrik, you may be asking? Well, in case I didn't make it clear already, the Sedins seemed to be figured out by the Bruins and Predators, as they shut them down with remarkable efficiency. I believe this could become a trend - if more teams look at what Boston and Nashville did to shut down the Sedins and apply it themselves, the Sedins could see reduced offensive totals in 2011-12 and become less dangerous on the ice. The solution is to grow their toolset and become more dynamic than before. And the best way I see of doing this is by getting Henrik to focus on improving his shot and using it much more frequently.

Think about it - when defending the Sedins, if you see Henrik with the puck, assuming you know your stuff, you're going to be thinking pass unless it's abundantly clear his only choice is to shoot. But if Hank improved his shot and became more willing to use it, he could surprise many defensemen and goalies by shooting when Daniel (or Burrows) is wide open for a pass that everyone is expecting. I'd expect that if Henrik were to do so, his goal totals would obviously skyrocket, but on top of that the Sedins' point totals could potentially reach new highs as well. The newfound unpredictability of the Sedins with the puck would throw off the opposing defense for a good while, and would counter any tendencies found in their game that could be shut down.

Keep in mind that as is, Henrik's shot is far from bad - his 13% career shooting percentage is actually higher than Daniel's 12.5% (though Daniel takes far more shots), and when Daniel was injured for 19 games in 2009-10, Henrik scored 10 goals (a 43 goal pace). But if Henrik were to use his shot more (and on a regular basis), he would likely need to work on improving the power and accuracy in his wrist shot so that his extra shots don't go to waste.

Of course, regardless of whether Henrik were to begin to shoot more or not, the Sedins will in all likelihood remain stars with PPG-or-higher numbers for years to come. But I believe that if Henrik were to work on his shot and us it more, the Sedins could hit new career highs and become even more dominant than before.

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