Whether you call it a gimmick, an ignoble result or the best way to get fans home for the 11 o’clock news, it’s time to suss out the shootout.
The NHL’s tie-breaking method is here to stay and quickly becoming a science in its own right.
Clubs such as the Maple Leafs are putting together special scouting tapes and tip sheets of goalies throughout the league, while the pre-season experiment of having every game end with a shootout has given players a mental book on each other.
The shootout is invoked if the five-minute overtime does not produce a winner in a tie game. After two minutes, both teams submit a list of three shooters, while the Zamboni makes about four passes to scrape, but not flood, the length of centre ice.
A new puck will be used and the teams will alternate shots, with the visitors going first. If the score is still tied after the three shooters complete their turns, it goes to sudden death, with the home team getting last shot.
No player who participated in the original shootout may go again until all players have been used. The goalie who started the shootout must complete it, unless injured.
Leafs coach Pat Quinn says the shootout scouting begins before a game.
“You might have a hunch, or a guy who is hot,” Quinn said. “Obviously, some guys are very good. But to say we have just three (shootout specialists) is not accurate; I think we have probably six guys who’d be good in that situation.”
While waiting for the shootout to start, Eric Lindros does a quick mental review of the goalie he will face.
But when the referee blows his whistle, the 90 feet between shooter and netminder closes quickly.
“Basically, you’re coming in and having a look at what’s open,” Lindros said. “Sometimes you come in slow, sometimes you’re coming in with speed for a goalie who likes to stay out. The quicker you get in there, the more chance you have to come around the side and deke.
“That being said, for a goalie who comes out quick and then backs in quick, if you go right in and slow right down, he’ll be back to the goalline (at a disadvantage). Really, I don’t know (what’s preferable). Just get in there and do your best, always hit the net.”
The big deke is not always the best move. Goalie Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres has proved to be crafty in flashing a lot of mesh before closing all entry points.
The shootouts will be a work in progress. Brian Boucher of the Phoenix Coyotes pulled his groin in his first shootout and when Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire told Pierre Marc Bouchard to take the first shot against the Blackhawks, Marc Chouinard thought he heard his name called and went ahead.
“I guess he didn’t understand my English,” Lemaire said.
Not that Lemaire likes the idea of a shootout. His club tied a league-high 20 games in 2003-04.
“I just don’t like it, I don’t think it’s fair,” he said. “To me, it’s a tie game. We can’t determine a winner. If we win, everything’s fine, but it’s not fair for the other team. They played as hard as we did. There’s one loser at the end and it’s in a shootout.
“The fans enjoyed the game because the game was exciting. The game was fast. They’re happy. We tied the game. So if they go home with a loss, they feel that we lost the game.”
Vinny Lecavalier of the Tampa Bay Lightning disagreed.
“You pay that amount of money to see a game, you want to see a winner,” he said.