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Shootout Madness

by Willy Daunic / Nashville Predators

The Bridgestone Arena crowd in Smashville erupted Tuesday night as the Predators prevailed in a four-round shootout over Arizona as Pekka Rinne dramatically stopped his longtime teammate Martin Erat to end it. When a shootout starts, experienced fans know they are going to get the ultimate high or a very painful low.   

Predator fans specifically had been dreading going to shootouts lately, as they'd watched their team drop 16 of their last 20 dating back to the beginning of the 2012-13 season.
     

The thrill of an NHL shootout is quite special for most fans. Many times when sitting in the stands during Predator games in the past, I would hear a casual fan say "I hope it goes to a shootout. I've never seen one.” For the fans, and the league, the shootout has successfully provided an exciting way to settle a game that has gone through OT. No more ties.
      

For coaches however, shootouts are maddening. They know the points on the line are vital, and can be the difference in making the playoffs or having too long of a summer. However, they are extremely tough to coach because of the element of randomness. It's extremely difficult to predict shootout performance from year to year, or from one player to another. There is often no correlation between a good hockey team and a good shootout team, or a great hockey player to a great shootout performer. It has to be a pretty helpless feeling for a coaching staff, no matter how much they analyze the art. Allow me to illustrate:



Team Performance:    

The eight teams that reached the quarterfinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year (Kings, Rangers, Blackhawks, Canadiens, Ducks, Wild, Bruins, Penguins) had a combined shootout record of 45-43. Very pedestrian rate of success for the best teams in hockey, wouldn't you say?
      

Now let's compare them to the BOTTOM eight teams in the NHL last year in terms of league standings (Canucks, Hurricanes, Devils, Flames, Islanders, Oilers, Panthers, Sabres). Those teams collectively went 42-47, a marginal difference from the top eight. In addition, that number is skewed by the almost unthinkable 0-13 performance by New Jersey. Replace the Devils 0-13 with the Predators almost but not as woeful 2-9, and the number becomes 44-43 - almost identical to the Top eight.
      

It wasn't just last year.

Three of the top five teams ALL-TIME in shootouts are the Sabres (58-46), the Islanders (58-41), and the Stars (57-42). That has not translated to much success for those teams since the shootout was put in for the 2005-2006 season. The Red Wings have made the playoffs every year since the lockout, and been in contention for the Cup most years. Their record in shootouts? Forty-three-51.



Player Performance:  

Yes, there are shootout specialists who are money in shootouts. TJ Oshie's performance in the Winter Olympics against Russia wasn't a fluke. He has consistently been among the best in the NHL year after year. He currently is at 56 percent for his career, well above the league average for shooters (which if you're wondering, has ranged from 31 percent - 36 percent each year.) Beyond Oshie and a few others, performance by shooters can wildly fluctuate year to year.
    

Consider Thursday's opponent for the Predators, the Chicago Blackhawks. Patrick Kane possesses an incredible array of moves with his stick, illustrated by his opening night backhand roof shot against Dallas. Kane in shootouts last year? One for 11.
     

Okay, Kane over the long haul has been solid in shootouts, if not consistent, including 6-for-11 in their Cup winning year of 2013. How about his teammate Patrick Sharp? Last season he picked up the slack for Kane by going 6-of-13.  The four previous seasons for Sharp? Four-for-27.
  

Sometimes guys who you think would be successful in shootouts are not.  Try this exercise. Which group of five players you would want performing for you in shootouts?

         

Group A: Group B:
Sidney Crosby Alex Ovechkin
Pavel Datsyuk Henrik Zetterberg
Claude Giroux Martin St. Louis
Jonathan Toews Jarome Iginla
Tyler Seguin John Tavares


                                                                                                                                                                                        These are 10 great players with excellent skills who have partaken in tons of shootouts over the years. One group has five players that are all ABOVE 40 percent for their careers - well above average. The five players in the other group all have shooting percentages of UNDER 30 percent - well below average. Of course, by the end of this season the numbers could even out for both sides. A hot stretch of five in a row will change a percentage a bunch, considering that the players at most have no more than about 80 attempts all time. The answer as of today? Group A is above average, and Group B below. To do some further perusing on your own to see who's done well and who hasn't, check it out here.



So What Have We Learned?

Shootouts are random no matter which two teams are participating, which is what makes them great. Teams and players run hot and cold from season to season, even if you have elite skilled shooters. Of course, the goalies have a lot to do with the equation as well, but they are no different. For most, it evens out over time. The Predators were 40-31 in their first 71 shootouts prior to the 4-16 stretch.  Maybe they are due to come back around. After all, they ARE 1-0 in their last one, and you're only as good as your last game.

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