Leafs getting hang of shootout

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:54 AM ET

TORONTO -- Up to this month, a Maple Leaf giving tips on NHL shootout success was like Tiger Woods lecturing on marriage fidelity.

But reporters were hanging on every word that centre John Mitchell and goaltender Jonas Gustavsson offered on the topic after the Leafs won a second straight tiebreaker against Montreal on Saturday.

It was the club’s third win in March and the fifth overall overtime decision in the past nine games. This is the same hard-luck Toronto side that lost the NHL’s first shootout experiment in 2005 and has been mostly miserable at it since.

“We’re late to the party,” Mitchell admitted. “Instead of having 12 in that shootout loss column (this year), if we had just six, there’d be a lot more points to be had. That would have been huge for us. But better late than never, I suppose.”

Mitchell has goals in the past two shootouts, Phil Kessel had one on Thursday against New Jersey and hit the crossbar against Jaroslav Halak on Saturday. Nikolai Kulemin also scored Saturday. Kessel uses his laser release of course, while Mitchell’s braking motion on his front-door deke is working to perfection.

“We’ve got some tricks in the bag, obviously,” Mitchell said. “If you don’t throw a good enough pump fake, then the goalie won’t bite. You have to make sure you get over and lean to one side pretty good to get him sliding on both pads, so he doesn’t poke it away from you. It’s going to be really tough for him to get back, unless he does a snow angel.”

Mitchell thought he might be getting too chatty at his secrets at that point and playfully urged reporters to “keep that quiet”.

The rookie Gustavsson, meanwhile, has won two shootout victories after looking awful in preseason and in his first real test against Carolina in November.

“That comes with experience,” Gustavsson said. “Sometimes you let in the first attempt, sometimes you can save 10 in a row on a hot streak. The more you play, the more confidence you get, the more you wait to see what the shooter will do before you make the first move.”

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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