Shootouts can be scary things for goaltenders.
They are matched one-on-one with the opposing team’s top offensive talents basically on an island – with nowhere to hide.
However, Penguins netminder Dany Sabourin enjoys the challenge.
“I think shootouts are fun,” he said. “I like breakaways. I think [goaltenders] have a good chance to stop it. I’d rather face a breakaway than a shot that goes in because you were screened and didn’t see it. At least on the breakaway, you can see it and can control a little bit what you can do.”
Sabourin has enjoyed plenty of success for the Penguins in the overtime shootout, which features a series of penalty shots to determine the winner of a regular-season game that remains tied following overtime. He’s been between the pipes for all three Penguins games that went to a shootout this season – and won two of them.
Prior to this year, he had only appeared in one shootout – a loss – during his NHL career.
“I’ve won two of the four for my career and two of three this year,” he said. “I think the guys did really well in both of my wins. That helped me a lot. If you go to a shootout, you feel good because you’re sure you have at least one point. You definitely want two points, but at the same time, you know the team played really well to get to that point, so it’s a bonus. I don’t feel much pressure going into the shootout.”
A shootout normally consists of three shooters from each team alternating attempts until one team wins. However, in two of Sabourin’s shootout appearances this year, he had to face a few more pucks.
On Oct. 27, Sabourin turned aside seven Montreal shooters before Andrei Markov found the back of the net for the only goal of the shootout to give the Canadiens the win.
Sabourin gave up one goal against five Senators shooters on Nov. 22, but the Penguins were able to post an emotional victory with a pair of goals in the shootout.
“You just go one-by-one and try to stop everyone. Everyone is trying to score, but you just can only focus one-by-one,” he said. “Like the shootout against Montreal, it’s was nonstop and the fans in Pittsburgh were up and screaming and that was pretty cool. When you see your guy score, you’re pretty happy.
“It’s not that hard, physically, because you have time to rest with the Zamboni cleaning the ice after overtime. The shootout is only one shot at a time. After you go down, you get up and you have like a minute rest before the other shot, so it’s not that hard. It’s fun; I like it. It’s great for the fans, too.”
A goaltender’s strategy in the shootout isn’t just random. A lot of preparation goes into studying shooters.
“You have to know the guy’s tendency or what he likes to do. Some guys like to do the same move a lot because they have a good move, so they’ll keep going with it,” Sabourin said. “Against Carolina, I asked Mark Recchi what they liked to do and he was right. He said they like to be patient and make you make the first move.
“But, things change, too, because if a guy has the puck on the side, he has more chance to shoot, so you have to challenge him,” he continued. “Sometimes, you see guys coming and you know what they like to do. Or, before the game, I’ll ask to see what moves guys like to do, so you know what he’ll do in case we go to a shootout. The technique of playing a breakaway helps, too.”
A lot of homework can be done away when a goaltender is off the ice.
“Last year, I was in Vancouver and we were in shootouts, so I tried to watch and pick up guys’ moves when I saw them or when I have a chance to watch games or highlights on TV and see a shootout, I will try to remember how guys scored. That’s how you build your knowledge of players,” he said. “It doesn’t have to just be a shootout. I think you can pick up a lot on TV just by watching games or even when you don’t play, you can pick up where some guys like to shoot or what they like to do a lot. You have to really concentrate and learn when you’re not on the ice.”
Often, the shootout can be a chess match in which the shooter tries to force the goaltender to commit to a certain direction so he can fire the puck into an open portion of the goal. Sabourin likes to be aggressive and cut down as much angle as possible for any initial shot.
“I don’t put too much pressure on myself. I try to challenge every player so they at least have to make a move or they have to deke me and beat me,” he said. “That makes it a little harder and maybe something can happen like I can poke check him or something. I am trying to buy time out there. I want to be sure that if he shoots, I will be right there. He’s got to at least deke me.”