NHL shootouts here to stay
A breakaway contest to decide a real, live NHL game?
Some people hated the idea. Some loved it. Nobody knew how it would play out.
Four years later, the so-called "shootout" is here to stay.
"It has turned out better than we thought it would," says Mike Murphy, the NHL's senior vice president of hockey operations.
A former NHL player and coach, Murphy was on the committee that presented the shootout concept to NHL general managers during the lockout that killed the 2004-05 season.
At the time, the league was eager to accentuate offense. Shootouts seemed like a crowd-pleaser.
Murphy recalled a strong sentiment, within league headquarters, to do away with tie games. Nearly 14 percent of games had ended in a tie in 2003-04, even though four-on-four overtime had been introduced four years earlier.
Two ideas were proposed to decide games that were still tied after overtime:
1. A five-minute, three-on-three overtime.
2. A shootout, whereby each team would get three breakaways. If the score remained tied, the shootout would go to "sudden-death."
Luckily, Murphy says, NHL GMs had time to scout minor-league games during the lockout. They saw first-hand how the shootout had been implemented with great success in the American Hockey League.
They noted how buildings bustled with excitement.
"They liked what they saw," Murphy said. "(The AHL) used five shooters, and we adjusted that to three."
After GMs rubber-stamped the concept, the NHL's board of governors approved it and sent it to a competition committee comprised of GMs, owners and players.
Hockey purists at each stop vehemently opposed the shootout. Many still do.
"As far as a way to decide hockey games with integrity, shootouts aren't the answer," says Sam McCaig, senior editor of The Hockey News. "It's like a skills competition, like an All-Star Game novelty. Hockey's a team game, and when it comes down to a one-on-one, shooter versus goalie, it takes the team element out of it."
Murphy said some of the league's movers and shakers acquiesced for the good of the game.
"I think everybody realized it's not always about their feelings but about entertaining fans and giving them an exciting product," Murphy said.
According to an incredibly detailed website called www.nhlshootouts.com, 12.7 percent of all games since the beginning of the 2005-06 season have been decided by shootout, including nearly 15 percent this season.
"It has become a staple of our game even in practice," Murphy said. "Everybody works on it, because everybody realizes that in the end, it could be hugely significant in terms of making the playoffs."
Other tidbits from nhlshootouts.com, as of Thursday:
• Teams that score first win 81 percent of all shootouts.
• Ex-Minnesota Wild forward Petteri Nummelin has the best career shooting percentage (8 of 10, 80 percent). San Jose's Joe Pavelski (11 of 15, 73.3 percent) leads active players.
• Minnesota's Marian Gaborik has the worst career shooting percentage (1 for 13, 7.69 percent), among those with 10 or more chances.
• Finnish shooters are the most accurate, at 43.2 percent.
• Washington's Jose Theodore has the best goalie winning percentage (10 of 12, 83 percent), while ex-Tampa Bay goalie Johan Holmqvist has the best save percentage (32 of 37, 86.5 percent).
• Philadelphia's Martin Biron has the lowest save percentage (15 of 37, 40.5 percent).
One often hears of fans rooting for a scoreless overtime, just so they can see a shootout.
"I am not a fan of shootouts," says Michael Russo, who covers the Minnesota Wild for The Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "But I know this: Every rink I'm in, when the shootout begins, you can feel the buzz, and the fans stand as one."
Players quickly adapted to shootouts, though it isn't always the superstars who flourish. Mario Lemieux, for example, was 0 for 3, and Evgeni Malkin was just 4 of 18 going into the weekend.
"You'd never want a playoff game decided (in a shootout)," says Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton. "But if it's something fans like, we're all for it."
That goes for goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, too, even though goalies are to shootouts what pinatas are to third-grade parties.
"When I'm in net for one, it's always very intense," Fleury says. "I love it."
Most of the time, anyway.
"You can have a great game and then lose in a shootout, and you feel terrible," Fleury said. "That's when I hate it."
Rob Rossi's thoughts and observations as the Penguins beat writer:
Mad Mike no more
Armed with the security of a new three-year contract, coach Michel Therrien has proven less willing to lambaste his team after poor performances. He's had his opportunities. Therrien has grown as a coach. Tough love will always be part of his method, but a leader that shows restraint will have his message heard loud and clear if he picks and chooses his spot to deliver harsh words.
The Penguins would do themselves and forward Jordan Staal well by picking a spot for him in the lineup and allowing him to play there for more than a handful games. He has played five games each at left wing and center on a second line and was moved to the middle on a third line this week. The movement isn't working. Staal had 12 goals in 92 regular-season games after scoring 29 over his first 74.
Center Evgeni Malkin's English has dramatically improved. However, he must not avoid the media, as has become habit - especially in cities the Penguins rarely visit, such as Phoenix. Writers that vote on the Hart Trophy, fairly or not, hold grudges against players that avoid them. Plus, Malkin, who served as an alternate captain last month, owes it to teammate Sidney Crosby to carry more of the media load.
The Penguins' minor-league report is written by Jonathan Bombulie, who has covered the Baby Pens for The Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre since the team's inception in 1999. He can be reached by e-mail
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) · Defenseman
6-foot-2 · 200 pounds
Paul Bissonnette fought 26 times in 46 games with the Baby Pens last season, then, unexpectedly, stuck in the NHL this year. Deryk Engelland was apparently watching. The rugged, 26-year-old defenseman has fought four times in his first seven games of the year, including scraps in all three games of a New England road trip last week. Engelland's puck skills probably aren't NHL caliber at this point, but his toughness is.
"We need it, and that's part of my job. I have no problem doing it," Engelland said. "It's fun sometimes. Sometimes it hurts. But it's all for a good cause."
John Curry is having a difficult start to the season. He was scheduled to make his first start of the year Oct. 11 but was scratched after his ankle stiffened up the morning of the game. He finally made a start Oct. 19 in Hershey but left in the second period with back spasms. In his first full game last Saturday, he stopped 17 of 21 shots in a 5-4 loss to Portland.
"It's been tough mentally, but I can't begin to make excuses," Curry said. "It happens. Guys get injuries. You have to deal with it."
A new approach
Fox Chapel native Bill Thomas has a specific goal to work on during his time with the Baby Pens. A top-line scorer for most of his career, Thomas has to figure out how his game will fit into the third- or fourth-line role he will likely assume when and if the Penguins recall him.
"Talking to the coaches, that's a place I think I am right now," he said. "It's understandable. Not too many guys can go right in and play on Pittsburgh's top couple lines. It's pretty difficult."
Defenseman Alex Grant, a 2007 fourth-round pick who signed a three-year, entry level deal with the Penguins this week, has made a significant impact on his junior club this season. After suffering a concussion in a rookie-camp fight last month, Grant missed the first seven games of the year. The Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League went 2-5 without him. Since he returned and posted 12 points in 10 games, they're 7-2-1.
With two games in Texas this weekend, the Baby Pens traveled by plane to a regular-season road game for the first time since they visited Chicago on Jan. 12, 2007. Because the AHL schedule is heavily weighted toward division play, 26 of the team's 40 road games come after short bus trips to cities in Pennsylvania (Hershey and Philadelphia), New York (Albany, Binghamton and Syracuse) and Connecticut (Bridgeport and Hartford).
The NHL's sure shootout studs, as ranked by Rob Rossi:
1. Erik Christensen, C
Career: 55.6 percent (15-of-27)
· If to see is to believe, he deserves this spot.
2. Vyacheslav Kozolv, LW
Career: 54.5 percent (18-of-33)
· The lesson: Do not go to a shootout with Atlanta.
3. Brian Gionta, RW
New Jersey Devils
Career: 38.9 percent (14-of-36)
· Started strong, but slipping with a 3-for-13 performance dating to last season.
4. Patrick Kane, RW
Career: 58.3 percent (7-for-12)
· Guess who gets the call for Team USA at 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
5. Alexander Ovechkin, LW
Career: 28.1 percent (9-of-32)
· Consensus among NHL goalies: Numbers lie.
Dave Hoffman of Aliquippa sounds off on the NHL:
Sometimes you have to tell people who make Mexican food that cilantro is not a vegetable; it's a spice. I think someone needs to tell (coach Michel) Therrien that same kind of thing about meddling. A little is a good thing, but too much destroys the flavor of the game. To continue my food analogy, you've got to let the Jell-O jell; if you keep messing with it, it never will.
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Penguins defenseman Kris Letang on shootout strategy:
"I study the goalie to see if my (rising backhand) move can work. I like to know going into a game, in case there is a shootout, if the move has a chance. Some shooters like to just feel it. Not me; I like to know going in if the move can work. If it can, I go with it because the goalie can't stop a good move if you do it perfect and shoot it where you want."
Check It Out: Letang topped all defenseman with five shootout goals last season; he went 5 for 8.
What's on deck
The week ahead for the Penguins:
Oilers at Penguins
TV: FSN Pittsburgh
Penguins at Islanders
TV: FSN Pittsburgh
NHL GAME OF THE WEEK:
Thursday · 7 p.m.
Lightning at Rangers
Can we really call it a Broadway debut for heralded Tampa Bay rookie Steve Stamkos if coach Barry Melrose never sends him onto the ice?Additional Information:
The Penguins have won 19 of 36 shootouts. Listed are active Penguins with 10 or more shootout attempts, ranked by success rate:
Kris Letang-50 percent (5 of 10)
Miroslav Satan-44.8 percent (13 of 29)
Petr Sykora-42.9 percent (9 of 21)
Sidney Crosby-30 percent (9 of 30)
Evgeni Malkin-22.2 percent (4 of 18)
*--as of Thursday