SUN Hockey Pool

Visors post-game gimmick

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

They began as entertaining little diversions, post-game gimmickry that many in the NHL's old guard didn't seem to take all that seriously.

But as playoff and divisional races become so tight that one point will likely mean the difference between making and missing, or clinching home ice and opening on the road, a lot of teams in the tourniquet are only now beginning to appreciate the value of those shootout spoils.

"I don't know if our team really realizes how many points we have lost," said Teemu Selanne, whose Anaheim Ducks have seven shootout losses this season, most in the Western Conference and second most in the NHL.

"We don't really practise it. Maybe three, four times in the whole season, and I don't think that's enough."

Not when you consider what's at stake. Win four or five of those seven shootout losses and the Ducks are in much better shape in their battle with Buffalo (10-4 in shootouts) and Nashville (6-4) for first overall. Ask Carolina what home ice in a Game 7 is worth.

"Teams are so evenly matched now that more and more games are going to shootouts, so you have to be ready," said Dallas Stars assistant coach Mark Lamb. "It's definitely something that can put you in or out of the playoffs."

Tampa Bay is a league-best 10-1 in the shootout this season. Carolina is 0-5, scoring on just one of 17 shots. The Lightning have breathing room in the east standings, Carolina doesn't.

Last season Edmonton picked up seven points in shootouts, and made the playoffs by three. The Leafs were 3-7 and missed in the East by two points - behind Tampa, which was 6-4.

Do the math. The Ducks are.

"Actually, we have been talking about at least once a week going and practising those because you have to," said Selanne. "If you want to get better, that's the only way you can do it."

Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock, one of the game's more progressive thinkers, practises the shootout a lot. He recently had a competition where every shooter who missed had to go in the penalty box.

By the end of the first round there were a dozen guys crammed in there like cattle. Everyone had a laugh and his team got a little better in an important element of the game that isn't going away - like it or not.

And a lot of coaches don't. They never liked deciding games with a skills competition and never will. But points are points, and not liking how you lost them doesn't bring them back.

"We really liked it last year," said Lamb, who still marvels at Dallas's 12-1 record from last season, and Jussi Jokinen's 13-10 ledger.

"When you're good at something you tend to like it more than when you're not. If you don't do very good at it you're not going to like it.

"Recently we haven't been as good, which I think has to do with the fact that our guys are being studied."

With playoff spots and seasons hanging in the balance, some shootouts still take on the look of an NBA slam dunk contest, with players trying 360s, drag moves, and the Marek Malik between-the-legs special. They wouldn't dare try those things in regulation, but shootout is still playtime to some.

"I don't think it's so much about showboating, it's just being creative," said Lamb. "You're studied so well that everyone knows what your bread and butter move is, so you have to come up with something different. You never want to embarrass yourself with a botched move that costs you a point. Those are usually moves that guys have tried in practice on their own goalies."

Studied? Practice?

Sounds like some teams are starting to do the math.

"I think so," said Lamb. "It's something you have to invest in."


Videos

Photos