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Road teams continue to prosper in shootouts

by John Kreiser
The home team can decide whether it wants to shoot first or second in the shootout. The players and goaltenders know the quirks of their ice, and the have the backing of thousands of fans eager to see them win.

But more often and not, those fans -- and their team -- go home disappointed.

Through four-plus seasons of the shootout, road teams have had the better of things in the breakaway competition that was first used in 2005-06. Since then, there have been 638 games that have gone to a shootout, and the visiting team has won 325 -- just under 51 percent. Home teams have won 313.

It's a not-inconsiderable difference, especially considering that slightly more than one in every eight games since 2005 (638 of 5,000, through Wednesday) has been decided in a shootout. This season, 14 of 86 games -- nearly 1 in 6 -- has gone to a shootout, with the visitors winning nine times.

New Jersey owns the most shootout wins with 35, one more than the New York Rangers -- though the Devils are 35-18 while the Rangers are 34-24. Dallas is tops in road wins with 20 in 30 tries; at 16-8, the Devils have the same .667 winning percentage away from home.

Shootout struggles -- One goaltender who's really struggled in shootouts this season is the Islanders' Dwayne Roloson. In fact, he has yet to actually make a save in the two shootouts he's been involved in.

Both Pittsburgh shooters beat Roloson on Oct. 3, when the Penguins beat the Isles 4-3 in a shootout on Long Island. Roloson allowed two goals and was saved once by a post in a 4-3 loss at Boston on Oct. 10.

If there's any consolation for the Islanders, it's that Roloson has a solid history in shootouts. He was 4-4 with Edmonton last season and allowed just 5 goals on 24 attempts, a .792 save percentage that was tied for sixth in the NHL, and entered the season with a 13-14 record and a better-than-average .706 save percentage (the average for four-plus seasons is .667).

Keep on shooting -- Like a sharpshooter in basketball, Alex Ovechkin obviously believes he can shoot his way out of a scoring slump.

Ovechkin scored five goals in Washington's first three games, triggering talk that he could exceed his 65-goal performance in 2007-08. But then he went cold, failing to score in three consecutive games. But it wasn't for lack of trying: "The Great 8" had seven shots on goal against the Rangers and nine each against Detroit and New Jersey.

He kept firing away Thursday night against San Jose and was finally rewarded. Ovechkin had eight shots on goal without scoring in the first period, giving him 33 in a 10-period span, but his next two shots, 28 seconds apart in the second period, both went into the net, giving him a League-high seven goals.

Ovechkin leads Marian Gaborik and Mike Richards by one goal -- but he's already running away with the shots on goal race. With 13 against the Sharks, he has 55 in seven games, an average of nearly eight per night. That pace would carry him well beyond Phil Esposito's NHL record of 550 shots in a season.

Fast starters, again -- The Capitals were second in the NHL last season with 86 first-period goals (Boston was first with 87), and they're starting this season by getting off to fast starts again.

The Caps scored once in the first period of Thursday's 4-1 victory over San Jose, giving them a 9-2 margin in the first period in their seven games this season. Their nine goals are third behind Calgary and Edmonton; the 2 goals allowed are second to Buffalo and Phoenix, who've allowed just 1, and tied with Philadelphia. All three of those teams have played fewer games than the Caps.

Unwanted history -- The Toronto Maple Leafs will be trying to avoid making history when they host the New York Rangers on Saturday night. The Leafs are 0-5-1 after six games -- and another loss will tie the franchise record for the worst start ever. Toronto's 4-1 loss to Colorado on Tuesday left the Leafs winless after six games; they were also winless through six in 1945-46 and 1982-83. They went 0-6-1 in their first seven games in 1990-91.

Wrong kind of turnabout -- This is not the kind of start new coach Todd Richards envisioned when he took over the Minnesota Wild last summer. The Wild had started each of the previous three seasons by going without a regulation loss in their first five games (5-0-0 in 2006-07 and '07-08; 4-0-1 last season). This time, they lost four of their first five and had to overcome a 3-0 third-period deficit in a 4-3 OT win over Anaheim to avoid an 0-5 start.

Not too Sharp -- Patrick Sharp is an accomplished goal-scorer -- he has 62 goals in the last two seasons and scored for Chicago in its 4-3 win over Edmonton on Wednesday. But when it comes to penalty shots, well, let's just say they're not his thing.

Sharp failed to beat former teammate Nikolai Khabibulin in Wednesday night's game, dropping him to 0-for-4 for his career on penalty shots. He joins three Mikes -- Modano, Richards and Comrie -- among active players who haven't converted in four tries. The only active player who's worse -- Ovechkin, who's earned five penalty shots in his four-plus NHL season and failed to score on all of them.

Quick on the draw -- Even great players have room for improvement. Just ask Sidney Crosby, who's gone from zero to hero in the faceoff circle.

As a rookie in 2005-06, Crosby was an easy mark on draws -- he won just 45.5 percent of them, among the worst marks in the League for front-line centers. But his continuing work has paid off: He improved to 49.8 percent in '06-07 while winning the scoring title, was up to 51.4 percent in 2007-08 and won 51.3 percent in 2008-09.

And this season? Through the Penguins' first seven games, Crosby won 62.0 percent of his faceoffs, putting him in the top 10 in the NHL -- and went 21-3 and 17-8 in back-to-back games at Philadelphia and Toronto last Thursday and Saturday.

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