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New 3-on-3 OT expected to entertain, affect strategy

by Dan Rosen

Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin on a 2-on-1 rush less than a minute into overtime? Kuznetsov holding on to the puck and blasting a shot from the left circle? Ovechkin crashing the net in case there was a rebound?

You bet the Washington Capitals would take that scoring chance any day, twice if they could get it.

But, said Capitals coach Barry Trotz, "You've got to hit the net."

Ah yes, there is that, and in 3-on-3 overtime hitting the net might be more important than at any other point in the game. Because odds are a misfire, such as the one Kuznetsov had against the Carolina Hurricanes on Sept. 21, one that ricocheted off the end boards and popped back out, will lead to an even better scoring chance the other way.

Kuznetsov's miss led to a 3-on-1 for the Hurricanes, and the result was a tic-tac-toe goal by Kris Versteeg off passes by Ryan Murphy and Eric Staal.

It took 57 seconds for the Hurricanes to score. Each team got one scoring chance. Washington missed. Carolina didn't. Game over.

"That was quick," Staal said.

Quick goals might become the norm in overtime now. No matter how fast they happen, the number of overtime goals scored definitely should go up, resulting in fewer shootouts, which was the stated goal by NHL general managers when they proposed the switch to the 3-on-3 overtime format at their annual meetings in March.

The change easily passed the NHL/NHLPA Competition Committee and the League's Board of Governors. Starting this season, overtime will consist of a maximum of five minutes of 3-on-3 unless a goal is scored. A shootout will commence if neither team scores during overtime.

The American Hockey League used a seven-minute overtime format that featured a 3-on-3 portion last season. The first three minutes were played at 4-on-4, but if no goals were scored, the teams switched to 3-on-3 at the first whistle following the three-minute mark.

The results were staggering.

The AHL had 75 percent of its games that extended past regulation decided in overtime last season, up from 35.3 percent in 2013-14, when the league used a five-minute, 4-on-4 overtime format.

By comparison, the NHL, using a five-minute, 4-on-4 overtime format, had 44.4 percent of games tied after regulation decided in overtime last season (136 of 306). Since the shootout was implemented in 2005-06, 43.2 percent of NHL games that extended past regulation were decided in overtime.

Season Total ended in shootouts Total ended in OT Total past regulation % of shootouts
2005-06 145 136 281 51.6
2006-07 164 117 281 58.4
2007-08 156 116 272 57.4
2008-09 159 123 282 56.4
2009-10 184 117 301 61.1
2010-11 149 148 297 50.2
2011-12 181 119 300 60.3
2012-13 97 65 162 59.9
2013-14 178 129 307 58.0
2014-15 170 136 306 55.6
Totals 1,583 1,206 2,789 56.8

The 3-on-3 format is expected to change that to weigh heavily in favor of games decided in overtime. It's hard to argue against that happening after watching it in the preseason so far.

Through Monday, 75 percent of the games that have featured 3-on-3 overtime in the preseason have ended with a goal in overtime (33 of 44), according to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who said the average time to score is 2:49.

"Pretty much what we expected but we'll see what the regular season is like," Commissioner Bettman said.

All that open ice makes a difference, New Jersey Devils coach John Hynes said.

"It's great hockey. It'll be entertaining for the fans, and there will be a lot less shootouts too," said Hynes, who coached 3-on-3 in the AHL last season. "It's not surprising when you go through it, because when you get 4-on-4, there is still a recovery element. But in 3-on-3, there is so much open ice with guys who have speed and skill. When you get odd-man situations with high-end players, a lot of times it ends in goals. That's good for the game."

But bad for the goalies. Unless they handle the puck well.

Goalies will face better scoring chances during 3-on-3 overtime than they faced during 4-on-4, but several coaches already are talking about the need to incorporate the goalie in the offense, either through a breakout pass or as an option to receive a pass when a team needs to regroup or make a line change.

Well-timed and well-executed line changes in general are considered paramount during 3-on-3 play, because one the wrong way could lead to an odd-man rush for the opposition.

"You've got to have the puck, hold onto the puck, change when you have the puck, so you've probably got to incorporate your goaltender to a certain degree," Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said.

What about dumping it into the corner to change, a routine practice during 5-on-5 play?

"I wouldn't recommend it," Peters said. "If you dump it in, you might not ever get it back again."

A major consideration during 3-on-3 play is player usage, which is what coaches have been debating and tinkering with during the preseason.

Do you use three forwards? Do you use two forwards and one defenseman? How about one forward and two defensemen? It'd seem rare for a coach to use three defensemen, unless he's playing for the shootout.

"If it was up to me, three forwards," Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said.

That might be something Penguins coach Mike Johnston considers because he has Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin at his disposal. He also has defenseman Kris Letang.

"I think it depends on what forwards you're talking about," Devils goalie Cory Schneider said. "If you're talking about Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews or Anze Kopitar, I'd probably be more comfortable throwing those guys out with two other forwards. But you could argue that Erik Karlsson or Kris Letang would be up the ice more than some of the forwards are. Teams that have those kinds of talents at their disposal will have a pretty good advantage."

Lighting coach Jon Cooper said he's wondering how it would look if he used his "Triplets" line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. Is the risk worth the potential reward?

"Are you willing to put certain players out there that are high reward but also high risk?" Cooper said. "It'll be interesting to see. I think there will be teams that put three defensemen out there, three forwards out there, the two and one. There's no question.

"We were borderline average at the shootout last year, maybe below. So I'm thinking, there is only a minute or two left in overtime, so maybe I should just go for it. We'll have to see how that plays out in 3-on-3. It's something else to think about now besides what we've been coaching for years. Now we have another challenge, and that's what makes coaching fun. Here is a new challenge, and now let's see what we can do to make our team excel. It should be fun."

And entertaining.

"Do you take a 2-on-1 with [Kuznetsov and Ovechkin]? You take it any day, right?" Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. "That's the way it's going to be. Teams aren't going to sit back. Teams are going to try to win."


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