First, a couple of comments from the archives - I noted last year that Washington's shooting percentage was unsustainably high:
1) "I’m not betting on Knuble getting better, but I am betting on him not getting significantly worse. His game is about positioning and stick handling redirections, so that’s someone that doesn’t have a sharp drop off like speed does."
2) "I would theorize that the caps as a team have raised their shooting percentage due in part to their younger players having matured and stepped up their play."
3) "I wouldn’t wager that the Caps hit 313 again, but I would wager that they tap 300, though I could see it being only 290 next year too."
4) "I wouldn’t bank on the Caps’ offensive output dropping to 08-09 levels – something between 08-09 and 09-10 is likely."
5) "I think if we were to do an analysis of where they were shooting and scoring from, we would likely see that compared to years past, a much higher percentage of shots and goals occurred within a few feet of the crease."
6) "This short post resounded of mathematical hubris, borderlining on arrogance. Player progression, coaching style/system, and line synergy/cohesion are all potential factors that aren’t accounted for in your model."
7) " I think the EV goals for this Caps team is about 20 goals less than they scored, not 40-50 like Hawerchuk would lead you to believe"
Things haven't worked out quite the way Caps fans expected - if they regress (upwards, this time) to usual levels, they'll finish the season with at most 250 goals, a decline of almost 70. But it's natural for fans to overestimate their team's ability. At any rate, a significant portion of the Caps goal-scoring decline comes from Alexander Ovechkin's lower goal totals. One potential explanation is that he's shooting from substantially further away from the net. The numbers suggest that he's a bit further away, but his shooting percentage is incredibly low given the small difference in shot distance:
Another thought is that Ovechkin isn't shooting from his usual spots inside the box bounded by the faceoff dots and the tops of the circles. We see two effects at even-strength - fewer shots from that area, and a lower shooting percentage:
These numbers are prorated to 82 games - Ovechkin is shooting just 3-for-50 inside this area, including 0-for-22 on the road. In fact, Ovechkin's road shooting percentage is completely awful - 2-for-122 overall, while he's shooting
1412-for-140 at home, which is in line with his usual numbers. No NHL forward can sustain a 2-for-122 scoring rate, so we'll certainly see Ovechkin improve this over the rest of the season. As for Ovechkin getting shots off at a lower rate, there are lots of possible explanations, most of which require breaking down a lot of video to get to the result.