Being so far outside of the rest of their game preparation, shootouts aren’t something that coaching staffs typically spend a ton of time planning for. Unless they become a problem, that is.
The Hurricanes, who have lost their last three shootouts after winning one in their second game of the season against Minnesota in Helsinki, may be approaching that point. Most recently, they dropped a 3-2 decision Sunday night in Washington that denied them the full two points following a two-goal comeback.
With all three shootout losses coming in the last five games, coach Paul Maurice suggested that a change in personnel could come as soon as tonight’s home game against Dallas, if necessary.
“We’ve talked about it,” he said.
A problem is that Maurice, who typically prefers experienced players in the shootout, doesn’t have much to choose from outside of his standard three of Jeff Skinner, Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu, who have shot in that order this season. The next in line could be Sergei Samsonov, who has converted six of 20 career chances (30 percent). That’s still less than Skinner (2-4, 50 percent), Jokinen (26-54, 48 percent) and Ruutu (8-19, 42 percent).
After those four players, only four others have ever scored a shootout goal, with either the sample size too small or the percentages too low to be significant. They are Erik Cole (1-5, 20 percent), Joe Corvo (1-3, 33 percent), Chad LaRose (1-1, 100 percent) and Eric Staal (2-13, 15 percent).
“You look at guys that have done it before that haven’t had an opportunity lately and maybe give those guys a chance,” said Maurice. “The risk you run is that the guys you’re pulling haven’t had the confidence but have had success with it.”
One such player is Jokinen, who has a reputation around the league as one of its best shootout performers and the stats to prove it, even though he’s been struggling lately. After Sunday’s miss against the Capitals’ Semyon Varlamov, Jokinen has missed seven consecutive attempts, with his last goal coming all the way back on Nov. 19, 2009 against Toronto.
While Jokinen should still figure to get the benefit of the doubt the next time the need arises, Maurice could turn to Samsonov, who scored a key goal in a shootout win over San Jose last season, give Staal another try or hand an opporunity to a less-experienced player, even though he prefers to go with established percentages.
“It’s a specific skill and it’s something that has to be practiced,” said Maurice, adding that this year’s team has spent more time on it in practice than in previous years. “The people that have experience with it usually get that opportunity.”
Despite the odds of having so many in such a short time, another shootout should not be ruled out for tonight, as Maurice believes the game against Dallas will be tightly-played as both teams play their third game in four nights. The Stars have won three in a row, including both during a home-and-home series with St. Louis that concluded Saturday, and watched on TV from Raleigh as the Hurricanes visited the nation’s capital.
“They’ve played some hockey too, (but) it’s an advantage that they rested last night,” said Maurice of the Stars. “The natural human tendency is to come off it a little bit and find an easier way to do it because it gets so hard. What they want to do is come out and grind you to the point where you don’t want to play that kind of game anymore.”
Kari Lehtonen, who the Hurricanes know well from his days in Atlanta (with 11 losses, no team has bested him more than Carolina) is epected to get the start in goal opposite Cam Ward. Lehtonen, the Thrasher’s second overall draft choice in 2002, has reportedly improved his conditioning to the point where he’s played in 19 of Dallas’ 22 games while avoiding the injury problems that plagued him in the Southeast Division.
Tonight’s game marks the first of two meetings between the two teams this season. The Canes are set to visit Dallas on Dec. 10, which is an unusually short amount of time for cross-conference opponents not participating in a European Premiere event. Carolina has had much better luck in the home leg, historically, having posted a 6-1-0 record against Dallas at the RBC Center, while they have only beaten the Stars just once in Dallas since they relocated from Minnesota in 1993.