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Mano a mano

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – A goaltender and a shooter square off. A win or a loss lying squarely on the blade of a hockey stick. That’s what shootouts are all about.

Installed in the NHL back in 2005-06, shootouts have decided the outcome of hundreds of games. And, as more and more young guns enter the NHL ranks, a bevy of spectacular new moves are being put to the test night in and night out.

“We’re seeing a lot more creativity these days. The guys are ready to pull a rabbit out of their hat every time. They’ve not being very conservative. It’s rare that you’ll go up against a standard shot. You have to be ready for a whole bag of tricks,” stressed Carey Price, who boasts a .712 save percentage in shootout situations, which currently ranks him eight among goaltenders who’ve participated in 40 or more shootouts over the course of their careers. “You just need to read the play and react. We see guys doing some things in particular, and some of them have tendencies. But, I don’t want to just stick to that. I did it in the past, and it got me in trouble. I just try to be patient and react.”

According to the 27-year-old netminder, the level of imagination and creativity that some players add to their dekes can often backfire on the shooter himself.

“A guy that comes in with speed and keeps things simple is the hardest guy to stop,” confessed Price, who hasn’t given up a shootout tally as of yet in 2014-15, stopping all seven shooters he’s faced. “Sometimes, you’re waiting to go up against something extravagant, and when a guy keeps things simple, it goes pretty fast. Sometimes, simple is best.”

Dustin Tokarski, who hasn’t dropped a shootout decision in his young NHL career, has a similar approach as Price in that regard.

“My approach is really just to go out there without really knowing what the guy is going to do. I read his movements and I react accordingly,” mentioned Tokarski, who has already been involved in two shootouts in 2014-15, stopping eight of 11 shots against. “Over time, players try new things and they have new ideas. With videos, YouTube and those types of things, it’s easy to get inspired. Guys learn special moves and they try fancier dekes. There’s a lot more variety today than in the past.”

While he might not see a ton of game action in his backup role, Tokarski knows full well that he can be a big help to his teammates in the shootout department whether he’s tending goal or not.

“If I’m watching a game from the bench, I’ll focus on the opposing goalie and try to find his weaknesses. Then, I’ll give the guys some advice,” offered Tokarski. “Our guys know what they’re doing. They’re in the league for a reason. And, the goalies are outstanding, too. I’ve just come into the league, so I’m still absorbing as much information as I possibly can.”

If the Canadiens are well-served with Price and Tokarski between the pipes, they’re equally as fortunate up front with shootout specialists Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau and David Desharnais in their arsenal.

“It’s a lot of fun. You can only dream of it when you’re young, to find yourself in a shootout in front of 20,000 people. When it happens, it’s special. You feel the intensity of the situation all over your body,” explained Parenteau, who has lit the lamp in the shootout 50 percent of the time. “It’s even cooler when you have a chance to give your team the win and the puck is on your stick. You focus even more, and you really want to succeed.”

Having already scored three shootout winners this season, Parenteau believes that even if the shootout is a situation in which individual talent takes center stage, it can actually spark the entire bench.

“It’s personal, but at the same time, you really feel like your team is behind you. You feel the guys standing up. You know that they really want you to score. You don’t feel so alone,” underlined Parenteau, who admits to working on several different dekes in order to keep opposing goaltenders guessing. “It’s definitely stressful when the coach taps you on the shoulder and sends you out there, but over time I’ve learned how to manage my stress level. The first few times I did it, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I told myself that whatever happens, happens. Now, I’m more in control. I have confidence in my abilities and I’m able to block out the stress.”

And, what does Parenteau recall from his first shootout experience?

“I remember my first shootout. I was in Portland in the American Hockey League. I don’t think I scored, though. I was way too nervous,” offered Parenteau with a laugh, adding that he eventually scored a few years later in Hartford. “It was a great feeling.”

Vincent Cauchy is a writer for Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.

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