If it seems like the shooters are getting better in the shootout … well, they are.
Through the first 400 games this season, 56, or 14.0 percent, have been decided in the tiebreaker. That's down slightly from the 14.72 percent total for 2011-12, though it would still be the second-highest full-season percentage since the shootout was adopted in 2005.
But shooters are having their best season ever in the tiebreaker. They've scored 133 times on 357 attempts, a 37.3 percent success rate that dwarfs previous seasons. The 33.8 percent rate in 2011-12 was the best in the first seven seasons, and the average success rate in those seven seasons was 32.7 percent -- just below one in every three attempts.
The improvement by the shooters is most evident in the number of shootouts that are being decided quickly.
Through the first seven seasons, just 11.5 percent of shootouts (21 of 181) were decided in the minimum four shots; this season, it's 21.4 percent (12 of 56). More than half of this season's shootouts (29 of 56) have been decided in fewer than six shots (three complete rounds); last season, just 38.2 percent (69 of 181) failed to go at least six shots, and that figure has never been higher than 40.2 percent in the first seven seasons of the shootout.
Ryan Callahan of the New York Rangers is the only player with more than two attempts this season that has yet to miss -- he's 3-for-3. Two of the four players who have a League-leading four shootout goals -- Chicago's Patrick Kane and Anaheim's Corey Perry -- also lead the NHL with three game-deciding goals.
But not every shooter is filling the net. Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, an above-average shootout performer before this season (16 of 42, 38.1 percent), is a League-worst 0 for 6.
Shootout star -- Not every star player is an ace in the shootout, and not everyone who excels in the tiebreaker is a star. One example of the latter is New Jersey goaltender Johan Hedberg, who's spent most of his time in the NHL as a backup goaltender but has quietly been one of the League's best in the tiebreaker. Hedberg has a 25-10 record and a .762 save percentage in the tiebreaker. The 25 wins are 24 percent of his 106 victories in the seven-plus seasons of the shootout, the highest percentage of any goaltender who's won 50 or more games in that span. Hedberg's save percentage is the second-best among goaltenders who've faced 100 or more shootout attempts; he's .002 behind Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers.
Lehner has played five games since being recalled after Craig Anderson went down with an ankle injury and has a 2.07 goals-against average and a save percentage of .944 (11 goals allowed on 196 shots).
But the shootout is another matter entirely. Lehner has taken part in three tiebreakers, lost all three and allowed six goals on 10 shots. Then again, Ottawa has never been one of the NHL's best shootout teams -- the Senators' 27 wins (against 41 losses) are 27th all-time, and their save percentage of .623 is also 27th, ahead of only Calgary, Toronto and Philadelphia.
Winning the race to 20 -- Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos once again is the first player to reach the 20-goal mark. Stamkos scored No. 20 Tuesday night against Florida, giving the Lightning a 3-2 victory. He's reached 20 goals faster than anyone else for the third consecutive season, something only one player (Jaromir Jagr in the mid-1990s) has accomplished since expansion. Stamkos scored his 20th goal in his 26th game -- six games faster than last season, when he finished with 60. That pace would give him 63 in a full 82-game season.
10 and counting -- Unfortunately for the Senators, the Boston Bruins come back to Scotiabank Place next Thursday. Boston's 3-2 shootout victory on Monday marked the Bruins' 10th consecutive victory at Ottawa. The 10 consecutive wins represent the Bruins' longest active road streak against any opponent and match the franchise record set against the Minnesota from February 1982 through November 1987. The Senators' last home win against Boston was a 3-2 victory on April 7, 2009. Not that they're a lot better in Boston -- overall, the Bruins have won 11 of the past 12 meetings, including two this season.
Mr. Shorthanded -- Ilya Kovalchuk scored all of three shorthanded goals during nearly eight full seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers. Maybe they were missing out on something.
Kovalchuk has surpassed his entire career total in Atlanta in his first 27 games with New Jersey this season. His League-leading fourth shorthanded goal was the game-winner in Wednesday's 5-2 victory against Philadelphia.
The All-Star forward now has twice as many shorthanded goals as power-play goals this season, and he has scored seven times while the Devils were a man down during his three years in New Jersey.
Kovalchuk's increased time on the penalty kill hasn't been taken away in other areas. He's 11th in the NHL in average time on ice at 25:31 -- no other forward is in the top 50 -- and was the only forward in the top 40 last season at 24:26.
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