These days the most commonly used euphemism for the NHL’s tie-solving shootout is “the skills competition,” given that the All-Star Game’s meaningless version is the only other time fans are exposed to the one-on-one, player-on-goalie multi-attempt action. The major difference with the NHL’s in-game version is that it’s the opposite of meaningless, which as a professional wordsmith I have come to learn is “meaningful.” Just last year the Columbus Blue Jackets missed playoffs by a single point and had four shootout losses on their resumé. Another goal or two in those contests would’ve really come in handy, as most teams wind up finding.
People laugh (myself included) at the change in player tone during post-game interviews depending on a team’s win or loss in the “skills comp,” but I kinda get it. When you lose you’re frustrated at putting yourself in a position where it comes down to something that seems out of your control at times, and guys are aware how much each point matters.
With the importance of the shootout in mind (like it or not), I took to the interwebz to see which players have been helping their teams grab full two, and which have been costing their teams points. And my word, was I surprised at the latter group.
The list below is ranked in order of performance versus expectations, not raw numbers. As in, Sidney Crosby being 0-for-3 would be looked at as worse than some plug being 0-for-5 or 1-for-8 or whatever, in this imaginary world where plugs get lots of attempts. (Crosby, for what it’s worth, is 1-for-2, and 23-for-55 lifetime – that’s 41.8% total – well above the league’s current shooter average of 32.79%)
A few notes on the shootout before we jump in
* Five teams have yet to register a shootout win this season, despite roughly a third of the campaign being in the books (prior to last night’s action there had been 63 shootouts league-wide – 15.56% of total games). Only one of those teams (only one of all teams, actually), the New York Rangers, has yet to partake in a single one – they’re a clean 14-14 on the season. The other four without a skillz comp win are Detroit, New Jersey, Ottawa and Nashville (14 total shootouts between them).
* That “league average” number from above (32.79%) is from the players’ total success rate of 147 goals on 449 attempts.
* It usually takes a mere five shots to end (21 times this season). The runner-up is six shots (15 times), and it gets pretty wacky after that (it’s gone 12 shots five different times?). The longest shootout of the year took 22 attempts to settle. According to the NHL:
* Pittsburgh, Dallas and New Jersey are tied with the most all-time shootout wins at 56. Pitt needed 10 less games than the other teams to get there though. Philly and Carolina have the least all-time, with a mere 25 total wins each.
* Matt Moulson is having a decent year in the shootout – he’s 5-for-5. Andrew Ladd is kicking butt too, going 6-for-8 on the year (incidentally, that’s both the most goals by one player this year, and the most attempts).
Let’s get to the list!
Disappointing 2013-14 shootout performance (versus expectations)
Dishonorable mentions: Patrick Marleau (0-for-4), Milan Michalek (0-for-3), Tyler Seguin (1-for-4), Travis Zajac (0-for-3), and Blake Wheeler (1-for-6).
Career total prior to this season: 9-for-20, 45%
Why his record this year is surprising: He has a killer shot, and a track record that was sitting around a number that’s basically the ceiling for long-term shootout success.
For a guy with so many tools to go 1-for-6, I mean…possessing the shot below should make that almost impossible.
Career total prior to this season: 2-for-4, 50%
Why his record this year is surprising: Galchenyuk got off to a good start in his NHL career in the shootout (and in general), going 2-for-4 as a rookie. That combined with general expectations for the young talent and his success during games this season (18 points in 28 games) have brought us to the point where we think he could wow us at any point.
Remember the goal that won the US the bronze at the World Juniors? (Start at 1:40)
So…0-for-4 this year? Pff. Kid’s a bust.
Career total prior to this season: 15 for 44, 34.1%
Why his record this year is surprising: It’s not just about his previous shootout success rate (which is just above average), it’s about what we know of Alex Semin: his wrist/snapshot might be hockey’s best. Seriously, there are people who put it at the level of, or above, Ovechkin’s, Kovalchuk’s…those guys. So you’d think unimpeded all this guy would have to do is pull the trigger and he’d tear the net off the posts.
To his credit, he has a wide arsenal of moves, which you can find on YouTube. This video might make you nauseous, but it demonstrates his mitts pretty nicely:
Career total prior to this season: 21 for 57, 36.84%
Why his record this year is surprising: Ribiero has proven that he can consistently do better in the shootout than your average player, and my word, some of the stuff we know that he can do with the puck explain that success away pretty easily.
And also, guys: of all the things people may want to question Mike Ribiero for, dangles ain’t one of ‘em.
You’ve gotta think Phoenix is expecting something better than 20% from someone with that skill set.
Career total prior to this season: 16 for 43, 37.2%
Why his record this year is surprising: People get stuck on the size of this guy, and forget how nasty his hands are. It’s mind-blowing how soft they look on some of his career breakaway goals (I’m thinking specifically of a couple backhand across-the-body floaters he placed shelf).
He’s just butter in alone.
Annnd this guy is tossing up a goose egg for your team? Awesome.
Career total prior to this season: 18 for 44, 40.9%
Why his record this year is surprising: A goofy laugh does not exclude a man from being a shootout savage, apparently.
FEAR THE WRATH.
That “excess speed kiss a snapshot off the crossbar” play is just a bit intimidating. 0-for-3 isn’t too terrible, but compared to expectations…nahgoodenuf.
Career total prior to this season: 13 for 27, 48.15% (no big deal)
Why his record this year is surprising: I know 0-for-3 can turn around awfully quick with one or two, but A), look at the career total(!), and B), look at this:
Anyway, that awesome move was an awful lot like the Datsyuk, with just a touch less silk. Goregous. Also…0fer, bud.
Career total prior to this season: 8-for-25, 32%
Why his record this year is surprising: While his previous career total isn’t anything beyond average, it’s John Freaking Tavares. He’s a guy who makes his living out-thinking people, and the shootout is basically just a chess match, so…so c’mon JT, we expect more than average. Frans Nielsen can’t carry all the water here, man.
Of course, he has shown he can figure it out in the past…
Career total prior to this season: 33 of 72, 45.83%
Why his record this year is surprising: Pavel Datsyuk is basically the poster child for the shootout, and I mean that seriously. If every hockey fan on earth were told they could send one guy in for one goal right now, I bet he gets the most votes. 45%-plus career shooter with more classic highlight’s than I have fingers and toes (19).
We really don’t need to go any further on his bonafides.
“Mr. Vokoun, would you like to purchase this move I’m selling?”
“Yes, yes I’d like to buy it very much. I quite like fakes.”
Or perhaps you prefer this Datsyukian demonstration?
He’s 0-for-4 so far this year, which incidentally matches the Red Wings record in the shootout. How on planet Earth is he not number one on the disappointing list?
Career total prior to this season: 29 for 65, 44.6%
Why his record this year is surprising: Pavel Datsyuk is not number one because the other poster child for shootout perfection is Patrick Kane, another damn-near 45% success rate shooter, another guy who’s scored some of the best shootout goals ever, another guy who’s also without a goal this year. Only he’s been blanked in six attempts this season.
I mean, you can’t stop sending him because…
Overall, the teams that these players represent are 17-25 in the shootout, with the 0-4 Red Wings being double-represented.
It’s a little early to label anyone “disappointing” in the shootout, but I just can’t get past all the talent on this list being a combined 2-for-42. All it takes is a goal in a shootout or two in a row to get your name off this top-10, but still…what the hell?
My only real theory is that these guys have become known entities, and in the same way players ramp up their defensive efforts when Sidney Crosby’s on the ice, goalies truly bear down when they see the Datsyuk’s and Kane’s skate out and start swirling around the neutral zone waiting for the “go” whistle. I don’t entirely subscribe to the idea that goalies “know their moves” by now – these guys know people have seen some of their tricks, but they’re creative enough to mix it up in the face of that – but it is possible that their list of options have dwindled to the point where they feel limited (Datsyuk doing “The Datsyuk” has likely been 86′d from his arsenal).
Either way, I’m guessing they’re going to be just fine – you certainly don’t stop sending talent out there because of a dry spell. But you know how this stuff goes. These guys miss a few, coaches start “playing hunches” and sending out worse shooters, and the shootout losses start to pile up when those guys predictably miss. If you’re on the bench with one of these guys, all you can do is cross your fingers like a fan and hope they get it sorted. There’s no point in the season where bleeding points away won’t come back to bite you in April.