December 1, 2004
(TORONTO) -- St. John's Maple Leafs head coach Doug Shedden has seen plenty of shootouts over the years.
Having spent time coaching in almost every professional hockey league on the continent during his career, Shedden has watched the outcome of many games decided by breakaway contests so he hasn't been surprised by the results of the most radical change implemented by the American Hockey League last summer.
Back in July, the league announced a number of rule changes ranging from a crackdown on obstruction, to the 'tag-up' offside rule, to a restricted play zone for goaltenders. But for fans, the most anticipated change has clearly been the addition of the shootout, a round of penalty shots that follows five minutes of four-on-four overtime.
Through the first 228 games of the season, just over 12 per cent of the games have gone all the way to a shootout (29). While traditionalists may frown upon the idea of awarding a full point in the standings to the winner of a penalty shot contest, those who have experienced it know the shootout can make average game good and a good game great.
"It's exciting, there's no question about it." said Shedden. "You can hear the people counting down the time (in a tie game). In the first game in St. John's, some of the fans didn't realize that there was going to be a shootout and so all sudden you saw people come rushing back into the rink.
Shedden, whose team is 2-1 in its first three shootouts, says scoring early is almost always the key, but other things are considered when choosing the shooters.
"To me, the longer the shootout goes, the more pressure there is on the skaters, he said. But you do look at who's had a good game that night, which hand the goalie catches with and who your best players have been in practice."
For St. John's, those players seem to be David Ling, Jeremy Williams, Harold Druken and Kyle Wellwood, each of whom have regularly got the call from Shedden in the shootout period.
Statistically speaking, the results of the new rules haven't yet made a huge affect on the overall production of offense, but the league has clearly made an attempt to reverse a trend that led to a 66-year low of 5.10 goals per game last season.
This year, scoring is up marginally to 5.48 goals per game. But according to Shedden, the quality and flow of the games are still a matter of the caliber of the teams and the officials interpretation of obstruction.
"If you have two skilled teams, the game speeds up and the play is good. If you have two tough teams that battle it out, the play won't be as smooth," He said. "On the other hand, the ref is the one person that can allow the skilled teams to play or make you play all night on special teams."
Shedden says the effect of the other rule changes would be tough to measure."The tag-up rule has been great," he said, referring to the rule that allows player caught offside to clear the offensive zone and then re-enter it as the play continues. "But does it increase scoring chances? Possibly. Does it keep the game moving? Definitely."
AHL Rule Changes for 2004-05
-- The AHL has implemented a shootout to decide regular-season games which are tied after a five-minute overtime period. In the AHL standings, teams will receive two points for a win, one point for a loss in overtime or in a shootout and zero points for a loss in regulation time.
-- In a delayed offside situation, the offending player(s) will be permitted to negate the offside by 'tagging up' with the blue line.
-- 'Automatic icing' has been implemented, with icing infractions to be called and the play whistled dead when the puck crosses the goal line.
-- Goal lines will be moved from 13 feet to 11 feet out from the end boards, and blue lines will be moved back accordingly to maintain a 60-foot attacking zone.
-- The width of the blue lines and the center red line will be increased from 12 inches to 24 inches each, increasing the neutral zone by two feet
-- The AHL will also implement, for the first seven weeks of the 2004-05 regular season, a limited test of a rule restricting the areas where goaltenders may play the puck.