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Shootouts this season down by half

by John Kreiser
Love them or hate them, almost every hockey fan will stop what he or she is doing to watch a shootout. But so far this season, there hasn't been much to watch.

The first three weeks of the new season have yielded just 10 shootouts in the first 136 games played -- a huge comedown from last season, when there were 23 in the same number of games. Project those early numbers over a full season and there would be about 90 shootouts in 2010-11, less than half of the record 184 that took place last season.

It's not that there haven't been plenty of opportunities for shootouts. In all, 31 of the first 136 games (22.8 percent) have gone to overtime -- the exact same percentage as in 2006-07, when there were 164 shootouts. But unlike the first five seasons of the shootout, in which about 57 percent of games that went to overtime were scoreless during the five-minute extra period, 21 of 31 games (68 percent) have been won in overtime this season; just 32 percent have gone to a shootout.

One thing that has been constant is the importance of scoring first in the shootout. The team that gets the first goal this season is 10-for-10, and through the first five seasons of the shootout, the team that scored first won 80 percent of the time.

Devil-ish difficulties -- Aside from a pair of Martin Brodeur shutouts, not much has gone right for the New Jersey Devils this season.

The Devils arrived in Southern California for games at Anaheim on Saturday and Los Angeles on Sunday after taking a 5-2 loss in San Jose on Wednesday that completed the second-worst 10-game start in franchise history. New Jersey's 2-7-1 mark through 10 games is its worst since starting 1-9-0 in 1983-84 on the way to finishing 20th in the 21-team NHL.

The Devils are 29th in the NHL in goals allowed (35) and 30th in goals scored (17). Their 18 goals allowed in the second period alone are more than they've scored in all three periods and overtime combined. Perhaps even more discouraging is that the Devils often haven't been close -- Wednesday's 5-2 loss at San Jose marked the fourth time they've lost by three goals or more, the most in the NHL. They are 1-4 in games decided by three or more goals after going 15-10 in those games last season.

New Jersey's biggest problems have come at even strength. The Devils have allowed a League-high 24 goals while playing 5-on-5 -- twice as many as they've scored.

One fixed, one not -- The New York Islanders were among the NHL's worst on special teams last season, a big reason they missed the playoffs for the third time in a row. New York finished 27th on the power play (16.0 percent) and 29th in penalty-killing (76.3 percent) -- not surprisingly, the Isles ended up 26th in the overall standings.

If the first three weeks of the season are any indication, however, the Isles have fixed some of those problems. The power play enters the weekend ranked third at 28.3 percent and tied for first in power-play goals with 13 (in 46 attempts); the penalty-killers are ninth at 85.7 percent (6-for-42).

So why aren't the Isles better than 4-3-2 as they enter Friday's game at Montreal? Much like the Devils, they've had problems while playing 5-on-5. They've scored only 12 times at full strength while surrendering 18. Their 0.67 ratio of 5-on-5 goals scored to goals allowed is 29th in the League, ahead of only New Jersey.

Getting the drop -- The Isles' signing of Zenon Konopka this summer was seen as an effort to add some toughness to a team that was pushed around often last season -- after all, Konopka led the NHL in fighting majors last season.

But Konopka has brought another valuable -- and much-needed -- skill to Long Island: the ability to win faceoffs.

Konopka is fourth in the NHL with a 62.6-percent winning percentage in the faceoff circle -- virtually identical to his 62.3 figure of last season in 462 draws with Tampa Bay. The addition of Konopka has helped the Isles improve from 48.2 percent last season (24th in the League), to 53.0 percent (7th).

Tiny and Tim -- Tim Thomas' fantastic start is making Boston Bruins' history.

Thomas, who went from Vezina Trophy winner in 2008-09 to backup goaltender last season, almost has been unbeatable since getting his chance to play in Boston's second game of the season. He shut out Phoenix in that game, and has gone on to win his first five starts, the best start by a Boston goaltender since Tiny Thompson went 6-0-0 to start the 1937-38 season.

But Thomas' 0.60 goals-against average during his hot streak is even better than Thompson's 1.40 GAA in his first five starts that season. The 36-year-old Thomas has stopped an incredible 153 of 156 shots for a League-leading a .981 save percentage, and has allowed no more than one goal in any start.
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