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With trends emerging in the NHL's 3-on-3 overtime format, the Flames are looking to sharpen up their OT strategy by eliminating turnovers

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick /

The excitement is unparalleled.

It's the end-to-end, edge-of-your-seat-type stuff hockey fans crave.

The vision, the speed, the cheeky toe-drags and highlight-reel finishes, impossible to beat.

Yes, the NHL's 3-on-3 overtime format is universally loved - and for good reason: It allows the game's top players to flourish. To invent.

To amaze.

So frenzied is the max, five-minute session, can you actually pause and apply a strategy. But the Flames - who've played a league-high 20 games to this point in the calendar - aren't leaving any stone unturned during a rare break in the schedule.

On Monday, the team got back to work with an hour-long session at WinSport, dedicating much of the free-wheeling workout to an area that doesn't receive much attention during the year.

And it was fascinating to watch.

"The previous practice, we did some 4-on-4 work and today we had a nice 3-on-3 segment - stuff you don't normally get to touch on, other than in video," said head coach Bill Peters. "Longer practice, a little more volume of work. We skated a little more at the end, which you can't do when you're playing every other day.

"I think it's going to benefit us going forward down the road."

Peters credited the work of video guru Jamie Pringle, who detailed some of the league's emerging OT trends in a meeting prior to the skate.

"How the goals being scored in the National Hockey League, what we're accomplish, specifically, with our personnel and our team... Real good day as far as that goes," said Peters.

With a game, basically, every other day, and three sets back-to-backs already in the bag, the schedule hasn't afforded them the chance to dig deep into the granular details of situational play like this.

But OT, specifically, is a beast unto itself, and has evolved greatly since the inception of the high-flying, 3-on-3 system.


Video: "Great day (of practice). Unreal."


The current format was adopted at the beginning of the 2015-16 season as a way to add excitement to the game and limit the number of shootouts that often followed a sleepy, 4-on-4 session. Since then, 49 of the Flames' 348 regular-season tilts have gone the distance, with the squad compiling a 32-17 all-time record in 3-on-3 decisions, including a 2-3 mark in the first quarter this year.

"It's important to work on it," said Sean Monahan. "More than ever, games are going to OT. It's a close league, you want that extra point, and if you can get the chemistry going [in practice], that's huge.

"It's tough to have a game plan. There's a lot of room on the ice and you obviously have to capitalize. If a team's going on a change, you don't want to give away the puck, and obviously faceoffs are huge.

"That's the key."

With a 65% winning percentage in the first four seasons under this format, the Flames have earned - on average - 7.5 of a possible 11 standing points per season when the game is deadlocked through 60.

Or the difference - if you take last year, for example - between first and third in the Pacific.

So, yes, the benefits are tangible, and identifying your strengths (and weakness) early ought to pay off in the long run.

Ditto when it comes to pre-scouting the opposition.

"3-on-3, when it first came into the league, it was just wide open, up and down," said Peters. "So, depending on the personnel, depending on the team, depending on where you are in the standings, I think it's tightened up a little bit, so you've got to manage the puck.

"Today, when we scrimmaged 3-on-3, all the offence was off turnovers. Somebody had it offensively, they forced it - impatiently - and the other team went back the other way.

"They can learn from that. We can learn from that. You see that in the league, too. You get a lot of 2-on-1's because there are two forwards and one D, so you get a lot of 2-on-1's where the forward is defending and he's caught back. They're trying to leave their feet and they're not exactly proficient at that."


Video: "It was a great effort by our team."


Hilariously, as the coach later pointed out, Johnny Gaudreau showed why he's ready for that scenario, should he ever be the one covering on D.

In addition to holding a scrimmage that tested the players' 3-on-3 skills at game speed, the coaching staff later employed a half-ice 2-on-1 drill that put the forwards' defensive talents to work.  

In this exercise, the D men were the attackers leading a 2-on-1 rush, and if the defending forward was able to block or knock down a pass on one of their two tries, they would have to retreat back to centre, plop down and grind out a set of 10 push-ups in front of their cackling teammates.

Mark Giordano and Rasmus Andersson felt the sting of that like no other pair, with Gaudreau having gotten the best of them by cutting off a late crosser with a beautiful slide to nullify the scoring chance.

To say the snowy Gaudreau savoured the moment as he ushered the pair back in line and eagle-eyed the punishment would be an understatement.

More importantly, it showed how they can use that to exploit others and protect themselves when the chips are down.

The lesson was: Don't force it.


"The first few years, I don't think teams really knew how to play it defensively," Gaudreau said. "I think there were more scoring chances, overall.

"Now, you've got to stay with your guy, keep him front of you, and I feel like I've had (fewer) opportunities to find the net."

Making that one that you do get all the more crucial.

"If you don't score and there's a big rebound, it tends to go back the other way," Gaudreau added. "There are always a few guys behind you. When you have an opportunity, you've got to (score), or keep it on net and make sure the goalie holds onto it - because if you don't and the puck goes around the boards, the other team is going back the other way."

Hey, practice makes perfect.

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