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Stars, Lightning shine when tasked with shootouts

by John Kreiser
No team has enjoyed more success in shootouts than the Dallas Stars, who've won 22 of their 28 since the breakaway competition to settle games tied after overtime was added prior to the 2005-06 season. 

For the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning, the addition of the shootout has been a blessing. For the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks, it’s been a curse.

Through Thursday night, there have been 340 shootouts in the 2,734 games played since the breakaway competition to settle games tied after overtime was added prior to the 2005-06 season. That’s 12.3 percent or roughly one in eight games. Shooters have scored 793 times in 2,391 attempts -- almost exactly one in every three.

While it might not be true that practice makes perfect, teams that take part in fewer shootouts generally don’t fare as well. Though Phoenix has taken part in just 14 shootouts, the fewest of any team, and owns a 9-5 record (a .643 winning percentage), the other four teams that have been involved in fewer than 20 shootouts have the lowest success rates: Ottawa 5-13 (.278); Philadelphia 5-13 (.278); San Jose (4-12) and Calgary (2-13, .133).

No team has enjoyed more success than the Stars, who’ve won 22 of their 28 shootouts, a .786 winning percentage. Tampa Bay is next at 16-6 (.727).

The two teams have enjoyed success for different reasons. Dallas’ 12-1 and 9-4 records in the first two seasons were built largely on the success of two players: Jussi Jokinen and Sergei Zubov. Jokinen is 16-for-27 lifetime, including 10-for-13 in 2005-06, while Zubov was 12-for-24 in the first two seasons before missing his first two tries this season.

Tampa Bay has succeeded by keeping the puck out of the net. Johan Holmqvist has allowed just four goals to the 33 shooters he’s faced, and his .879 save percentage is the best of any goaltender who’s faced 15 or more shooters. Backup Marc Denis is fourth with an .842 percentage, having stopped 32 of 38 shooters -- including 19 of 20 after being dealt to the Lightning by Columbus prior to last season.

Calgary and San Jose have struggled largely due to goaltending problems. Though Miikka Kiprusoff is among the NHL’s top goalies, he’s allowed 19 goals on 42 tries, and his .548 save percentage is among the 10 worst among goalies who’ve faced 15 or more shots. San Jose traded Vesa Toskala, whose .400 save percentage (12 goals allowed in 20 chances) is the worst of any goalie who’s seen 15-plus shots, to Toronto -- where he’s 0-2 and has stopped just one of five shots; he was 7-for-15 as a Shark. But while Evgeni Nabokov has been excellent in regulation play for San Jose this season, he’s 1-3 in shootouts and has allowed five goals in 11 tries this season, a .545 save percentage. For his career, he’s allowed 13 goals in 34 career chances (.618).

Who scores? -- Success in the shootout doesn’t necessarily belong to the players who dominate regulation play. Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby is only 8-for-24 (.333), including 1-for-3 this season -- he’s had the same percentage in all three seasons -- while third-line forward Eric Christensen is 11-for-18 (.611) and tied for the league lead last season with eight shootout goals. Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk, who’s tops this season with 19 goals, is 2-for-2 this season, but was just 2-for-14 in his career before that. And while Minnesota’s Marian Gaborik is one of the NHL’s most dynamic offensive players, he’s never scored a shootout goal. Gaborik is 0-for-8 lifetime; in contrast, little-used defenseman Petteri Nummelin is 7-for-8 (1-for-1 this season), and center Mikko Koivu is 12-for-21.


Winning combination -- The Atlanta Thrashers entered the weekend with an 11-10-0 record, an impressive mark when you consider that they were 0-6-0 before GM Don Waddell fired coach Bob Hartley and went behind the bench himself. The Thrashers went 11-4-0 in their first 15 games under Waddell, largely due to his decision to put big guns Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa on the same line, with Todd White in the middle. Kovalchuk was 3-1-4 under Hartley; he’s 16-13-29 with Waddell in charge, including six games in which he’s had three or more points. Hossa, who missed some time with injuries under Hartley and had just one goal and no assists before the coaching change, is 8-10-18 under Waddell and has six consecutive multi-point games. White had no goals and two assists under Hartley, he’s 5-7-12 since. That’s 29 goals and 60 points in 15 games -- more than enough production to get the Thrashers back in the playoff race.

Holiday fare -- Playing on Thanksgiving was an unusual occurrence for the Pittsburgh Penguins – they hadn’t had a Turkey Day game since a 9-3 loss in Hartford in 1984. Maybe they should schedule another after rallying for a 6-5 shootout win in Ottawa. The Penguins are now 2-3-2 on Thanksgiving; their only other win was against the Maple Leafs in Toronto in 1973.

Detroit had gone even longer between Thanksgiving games. Before Thursday’s 3-2 loss in Nashville, the Wings hadn’t played on Thanksgiving since a 3-1 road win against the New York Islanders in 1976. Overall, the Wings are 19-14-7 on the holiday.

One team that’s likely to keep scheduling Thanksgiving games is the Predators, who have won at home in each of the last three years.


Shorting the opposition -- The stats say the Chicago Blackhawks have a middle-of-the-pack penalty-killing unit. But what the PK percentages don’t show is that the Blackhawks’ penalty-killers are almost as big a threat to score as the opposition. The Hawks scored twice while killing penalties in Thursday night’s game in Calgary, giving them 10 shorthanded goals in 21 games -- a pace that, over a full season, would surpass Edmonton’s NHL record of 36, set in 1983-84.

Patrick Sharp had the second of the two shorthanded goals, giving him five for the season. That’s more than any other team except the Ottawa Senators, who are second in the league with five.

Fast start, big gain -- One reason for Detroit’s fast start has been the play of Henrik Zetterberg, who set a franchise record with a 17-game points streak from the start of the season. Through 20 games, Zetterberg had 30 points and had taken 110 shots on goal, a huge jump from last season, when he had just nine points after 20 games and had taken only 60 shots.

Slow starts, big pain -- The New York Islanders have won all three meetings with the Rangers this season and are 8-1-2 against their big-city rivals since the start of 2006-07. Part of their success has come because they’ve kept the Rangers from getting off to fast starts. The Isles have held the Rangers scoreless in the first period in each of their last seven meetings.

The New York-area rivals also specialize in close, low-scoring games. Each of those seven meetings has been a one-goal game, five have ended 2-1, the others were 3-2 decisions.

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