| |Sam Gagner celebrates after scoring his first career shootout goal last Thursday versus Minnesota (photo: Andy Devlin)
Only one team has more than one shootout victory this NHL season and that team will be taking the ice at Rexall Place tonight.
No it’s not the league-leading Detroit Red Wings, it’s the Edmonton Oilers. And they don’t have two shootout wins, they have three.
Last year, the Oilers had three shootout victories all season long. Oilers centre Jarret Stoll, who has one shootout marker of his own this season, chalks this year’s success up to an increased skill level throughout the team.
“I think so,” said Stoll. “You see some pretty good moves out there, it’s pretty tough for goaltenders to stop those moves. “I’m not a goalie but if I was in there I wouldn’t want Sam Gagner
coming down on me.”
Gagner has two shootout goals in two attempts so far this year. Both teams he attempted a multiple deke move that brought the fans out of their seats and had the goaltender wondering what jus thappened.
“Great skill level, great young guys that are eager to get out there and try those moves – and are confident with those moves,” Stoll continued.
He also went on to note that having success in the shootout helps breed confidence in this young team moving forward.
“Even against Detroit, we’re confident against a team like that.”Shawn Horcoff
hasn’t had a shootout attempt yet this season but has enjoyed what he’s seen watching from the bench.
“It’s pretty to watch. I’m still a fan of hockey and I like watching pretty goals,” Horcoff remarked. “When you see something like that where the goalie is completely out of the net it’s pretty impressive.
Marty Reasoner is one-for-three in his career in shootouts.
“I practice a lot but I haven’t scored a goal like that. Obviously (Gagner) works on it a lot but he’s also a pretty skilled guy,” Reasoner said. “It’s pretty impressive to watch an 18 year old kid make grown men look pretty silly.”Sam Gagner
confirmed that he spent hours practicing his moves while growing up.
”I had a rink in my backyard growing up and I was able to go out there whenever I wanted and work on my hands,” he said. “I owe it all to that.”
The addition of the shootout to junior leagues is also paying dividends in the NHL already. Gagner shot plenty of times with the OHL’s London Knights.
“Last year when we were in London we ended practice with a shootout for 20 bucks. The pressure was on and if you miss you’re out for good,” Gagner continued. “We were in shootout games 12 times last year so I got a lot of practice there as well.”
So far, fans have only seen the one move impressive as it may be but Gagner pointed out that he has several more in his arsenal.
“I try and mix it up as much as possible. If it’s not there I have to adapt quickly.”
But how the puck goes in doesn’t matter so much as if it goes in as Ales Hemsky
proved last Thursday when he lost control of the puck but it still managed to slip past Josh Harding for the win.
“At the end of the day you’re just trying to help your team win. It doesn’t matter how the puck goes in the net as long as it goes in,” Gagner said.
After the past couple of seasons where shootout success was few and far between for the Oilers, Head Coach Craig MacTavish said it was nice to see some wins early this season.
“It’s nice to win those for a change,” he said.
Hemsky and Gagner seem to have become staples in the team’s shootout lineup, but MacTavish wants to keep that third spot open as a rule.
“You want to leave some leeway in the shootout so players coming off a goal or two have high confidence and are able to withstand the pressure.”
But when a game enters overtime, will the Oilers start to play for the shootout? Stoll says that would be the wrong mindset.
“You’ve got to push for the goal. You never want to sit back and wait for the shootout to happen. That kind of mindset you’ll be digging the puck out of your net more often than not,” he said.
“You’ve got to push for that goal and if it happens, it happens. If not, you go to the shootout but you can’t sit back at any point.”