What’s the toughest thing to do in the NHL this season? Beating Mathieu Garon
in a shootout ranks right up there.
Garon is the main reason the Edmonton Oilers have won a record-setting 13 shootouts this season. Though he’d been nothing special in shootouts before this season, going 5-4 with an above-average .706 save percentage, Garon has become the best shootout goalie in the NHL this season – by far.
The 30-year-old is a perfect 9-0 in shootouts this season; no other goaltender has been perfect in more than five shootouts. The ninth win, a 4-3 victory over Detroit Tuesday, broke the record for longest winning streak in shootouts and left Garon one win away from the single-season record of 10, set by Buffalo’s Ryan Miller and New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur last season. More amazingly, Garon has stopped 27 of the 29 attempts he’s faced – a .931 save percentage that’s well above the single-season mark of .900 set last season by Tampa Bay’s Marc Denis, and the second-best percentage in the League this season: .800, by teammate Dwayne Roloson.
Vancouver is the only team to score against Garon in a shootout this season: Trevor Linden did it on Nov. 20 and Ryan Kesler on Dec. 15. Since Kesler’s goal in the second round that night, Garon has stopped 11 consecutive attempts.
Though the Canucks have scored twice on him, Garon has done some of his best work against them. He’s 3-0 against Vancouver, including a pair of wins against All-Star goalie Roberto Luongo.
Misfires -- Being one of the NHL’s top scorers is no guarantee of success in shootouts. There are nine players who have taken 20 or more career attempts and scored on less than 20 percent of them; three of them are among the NHL’s elite scorers.
Minnesota’s Marian Gaborik is 1-for-11 (9.1 percent); Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin is 3-for-17 (17.6 percent), and Ottawa’s Dany Heatley, a 50-goal scorer in each of the past two seasons, is 3-for-16 (18.8 percent). Gaborik is 1-for-3 (33.3 percent) this season, while Malkin is 0-for-5 and Heatley is 0-for-4. Malkin, the Rangers’ Jaromir Jagr and St. Louis’ Paul Kariya are all a League-low 0-for-5 this season.
Being an All-Star goalie also is no guarantee of success. Luongo leads the NHL this season with eight shootout losses.
Stormy weather -- Why have the Tampa Bay Lightning struggled for much of the season? One reason is their inability to stop opponents in the third period. The Bolts have allowed a League-high 86 goals in the third period, seven more than runner-up Florida. In fact, the four worst third-period defensive teams all come from the Southeast Division; Washington is the only Southeast team that has allowed fewer than 75 goals — the Caps have allowed 70.
Thrashed -- The hardest-working player in the NHL these days is Atlanta goalie Kari Lehtonen, who’s gotten less help than any netminder in the League over the past couple weeks. Lehtonen has been in goal for all five games during the Thrashers’ 0-4-1 slide, but it’s hard to blame him — Atlanta has allowed 190 shots (38 per game) during the slump, while managing just 113 (an average of 22.6). Not surprisingly, they have been outscored 22-10 during the slide.
Bring on the Cats -- New York Rangers defenseman Marek Malik is no one’s idea of a big scorer — unless the Florida Panthers are in town. Malik has just six points this season, but five have come in Florida’s two visits to Madison Square Garden. He had three assists in a 5-2 win opening night and a goal and an assist this past Sunday, when the Rangers beat Florida, 5-0. His only other point was an assist against Buffalo on Feb. 16.
Power outage -- The Rangers have a better record at home (20-13-0) than on the road (13-11-8), but not because of their power play. The Rangers have scored just one power-play goal in their last 11 games at Madison Square Garden, during which they were 7-4-0 despite going just 1-for-45 (2.2 percent) with the man advantage. On the road, they’re 6-2-4 in their last 12 while going 12-for-49 (24.5 percent) with the extra man.
Three in a row -- The Battle of Ontario is evening up — a little bit. Toronto’s 5-0 victory at Ottawa on Monday was the Leafs’ third in a row over the Senators and evened the season series at three wins each. It’s the first time the Leafs have won three regular-season games against Ottawa since they capped a 6-0 run against the Senators with a 4-1 win at Maple Leaf Gardens on Dec. 5, 1995. The Leafs won the first six meetings between the provincial rivals; since then, they’ve gone 18-31 with three ties and six overtime and shootout losses.
Looking Sharp -- Chicago fans might well have forgotten what a big scorer looked like — until this season.
Patrick Sharp, who entered 2007-08 with 39 career goals, could match that total this season. The 26-year-old right wing has 31 goals in 61 games this season — becoming the first Blackhawk to reach the 30-goal mark since Eric Daze scored 38 in 2001-02. Sharp also leads the NHL with seven shorthanded goals and is one off the League lead with seven game-winners.