UTICA, N.Y. -- The American Hockey League has been trying to find a way to have more games end in overtime rather than in the shootout. The reviews have been mixed from players.
Before the start of the 2014-15 season, the AHL changed how overtime periods would be handled by switching from a five-minute overtime played 4-on-4 to a seven-minute period with four of them played 4-on-4 and three minutes played 3-on-3.
Through Saturday, 74.8 percent of games that went to overtime were settled in the extra period. When compared to last season, it’s an increase of 39.5 percent when 64.7 percent of games that went to overtime ended in the shootout. For AHL players who have spent time in the NHL, that difference has been noticeable.
"I think for our fans, it's great for hockey," Rockford IceHogs defenseman T.J. Brennan said. "Obviously shootouts are fun and exciting. It [stinks] being on the losing side of a shootout. One guy, one goalie … it kind of takes away from the team-oriented thing. Having 4-on-4 and 3-on-3, it's always exciting to have a goal in game decided in action. When you simplify it down to that, it's fun and exciting."
The number of games that have gone to overtime this season in the AHL compared to last season is not much different; through Saturday, 75.6 percent of games have ended in regulation compared to 75.9 percent in 2013-14. Finding a way to decide games before a shootout is something forwards and defenseman have taken a liking to in spite of the added wear it puts on them.
"You get a little bit more tired because there [are] less guys on the ice, obviously, and the puck's been zipped around pretty good or they're ragging it pretty good," Oklahoma City Barons defenseman Brad Hunt said. "It's just exciting for the fans, I think, just to see if there is a rush usually it's either a 3-on-2 or a 2-on-1, especially if a guy falls down then it's a 3-on-2 so it makes for more exciting hockey."
Seeing a 3-on-3 matchup in overtime may be exciting for the fans and some of the players, goaltenders haven't seen it the same way.
"I don't think limiting the shootout games is that important," Adirondack Flames goalie Joni Ortio said. "If they're doing it for the fans, I think fans like to see shootouts. I, personally, like the old way better. I don't know if this is going to be a permanent thing or not but, obviously you've got to try new things, but for me it's not working."
Of the 155 decisions in either overtime of the shootout this season, 67 goals have come at 4-on-4, 49 at 3-on-3, and 39 games ended in the shootout.
"Well the 3-on-3 it's special," Utica Comets goalie Jacob Markstrom said. "It gets the goalies working for sure. It's fun for the fans, I think the fans enjoy it. For a goalie, I like to have more guys to help me defend. But, the fans like it and it decides games."
As for shootouts, the goalies have a different challenge in them than some players and even fans see.
"Shootouts are fun," Markstrom said. "We only had one shootout this year, I think, and we lost against Milwaukee [Admirals]. I like more shootouts. … It's fun, it's good, it's 1-on-1. It gets more personal. You try to get in a shooter's head and stuff like that. It's fun."
When goals were scored in overtime this season, 63 were scored in the first four minutes and 53 happened in the final three minutes when 3-on-3 was most likely to occur. Fewer players mean more ice and more opportunities for breakdowns defensively. When told that goalies haven't warmed up totally to the idea of 3-on-3 in overtime, Brennan used self-deprecating humor to pinpoint why.
"[It's] probably because they have defensemen like me jumping into the play when they shouldn't be," Brennan said.