It's an accepted truism that teams that get outshot tend to have losing records. This has always been true, but it is even truer today given the parity of the NHL. There are certainly exceptions to the rule - if your team was so good that it always had the lead, it would almost certainly get outshot as it sat back and protected that lead. And if you had the best goaltending in the league, you might not need to dominate the shot count to win games. There have been precious few successful teams like this in history, but here are five of the best:
#5. 1974-75 Los Angeles Kings. This is a bit of a sentimental statistical pick. The Kings averaged 83 points in the seasons before and after this one. But Rogie Vachon and Gary Edwards had dominant 1974-75 seasons behind a middling team and got them to 105 points. For a statistician then, goaltending = +22 points in the standings. Here are the season-long numbers:
The wheels came off in the playoffs against the Toronto Maple Leafs - in Game 3 of the Best-of-Three opening round series, the Kings were down 2-0 after two periods at home and couldn't come back. The well-known Gord McRae, who would play just 45 more games in goal during his NHL career, held the Kings to a 6.3% shooting percentage in the series.
#4. 1997-99 Buffalo Sabres. If Vachon showed us what a fluke year could do for a team, Dominik Hasek showed us what a dominant goalie could do for his team in his best seasons. Including the playoffs, Hasek played 170 games in two years. Unlike the Kings, the Sabres absolutely hemorrhaged shots on goal, and Hasek kept them in the game:
The Sabres went 24-12 in the playoffs those two seasons despite being outshot by six shots per game - but Hasek upped his game in the post-season, and unlikely heroes like Dixon Ward, Stu Barnes and Curtis Brown had shooting percentages around 20%.
#3. 1990-2001 Pittsburgh Penguins. Not only were the Pens out-shot during their two first Stanley Cup campaigns, but they were consistently out-shot over a period of 11 years in which they made the playoffs every single season. But the championship seasons are the most surprising:
At best, these Penguins teams played their opponents to a draw at even-strength, and then dominated them on the power-play. Mario Lemieux, Mark Recchi, Kevin Stevens, Jaromir Jagr, Joe Mullen, Ron Francis, Rick Tocchet and even Phil Bourque all had shooting percentages in the 15-22% range.
#2. 1978-1984 New York Islanders. The Islanders dynasty was quite the antidote to the Montreal Canadiens dynasty that preceded it, teams that would routinely outshoot their opponents by 700 shots over the course of a season.
The Islanders are on a slightly higher plain than the early-90s Penguins: thanks to good goaltending and outstanding shooters like Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy, they outscored their opponents at even-strength and then absolutely dominated them on the power-play. We don't have full playoff shooting stats for this era, but we do know that Billy Smith was even better in the playoffs than he was during the regular season.
#1. 1983-90 Edmonton Oilers. Imagine your team could score at will. That's what the Edmonton Oilers were like. They'd put Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey out together and then mix-and-match with Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Mark Messier. And everybody (except Coffey, because he'd take some shots from the point) would shoot over 20%, and the Oilers would be up 6-0 at the end of the first period, and the entire team could relax for the rest of the game, work on some skills, and not get to worked up over the other team outshooting them. Because it didn't really matter if you won 10-1 or 10-3, it was all the same. Later, it would be Messier's team with a different cast of characters, and everything would work out the same way.
The Oilers, unlike the other teams I've looked at here, actually turned it up a notch in the playoffs and made sure they weren't outshot. Bearing down like that was helpful - after winning just 64% of their games during the regular season, they won 75% of their playoff games over a seven-year period - despite playing against the best teams in the league in the playoffs.
So yes, it's true - you can get outshot and still legitimately be one of the best teams in the league. All it takes is a dominant Hall-of-Fame goaltender, or two lines full of high-percentage scorers. Otherwise, the future looks cloudy with a chance of regression to the mean.