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Getting Serious About Shootouts

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Perhaps the most significant difference between pre- and post-lockout NHL action is the shootout, the crowd-pleasing finish to an otherwise tied game that allows one team to skate off in victory, and the other to still take home a point in the standings for their night's work. We've seen some incredible highlights come out of the shootout, like Brian Rolston's slapshot, Pavel Datsyuk's incredible deke, or perhaps the ultimate highlight-reel play, Marek Malik's between-the-legs dazzler. As much as many in the sports media criticize the NHL for perceived marketing failures, the adoption of the shootout has provided a great opportunity for hockey to sneak into the highlight packages on nightly sports shows across the country.

Besides sheer entertainment value, however, the shootout has turned into one of the most significant factors in the race for the playoffs. Last year, for example, if you took away the points in the standings from shootout victories, Toronto rather than Tampa Bay would have snagged the final playoff spot in the East, and Philadelphia, not New Jersey, would have won the Atlantic division. Out in the West, the Edmonton Oilers would never have made their run to the Stanley Cup Finals, as Vancouver would have instead captured the 8th seed. Just think, if the Canucks actually won a series or even two last spring, would they have undergone the massive changes that have them positioned to win the Northwest this time around? As arbitrary as some people seem to think the shootout is, the bottom line is that when precious points are on the line, that means jobs, even careers, can hang in the balance. As such, they certainly merit a greater degree of focus.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the shootout is the prominence given to relatively unknown players, and the lack of success experienced by a host of well-known scorers. Take for example the league's leading scorer, Sid Crosby; how is he faring in shootouts? How about dead last in the NHL, with 0 goals on 6 attempts this year! Last season's bottom-dwellers from an individual perspective include Joe Sakic, Marian Gaborik, Sergei Fedorov, and Martin St. Louis. Clearly, scoring in the shootout is a much different endeavor than during regular gameplay. So the question becomes, what sort of trends can we identify relative to the shootout, and how might it impact the stretch drive heading into the playoffs?

First off, let's look at some of the baseline numbers. Covering both last season and this, shooters score about 33% of the time, they miss the net on 13% of shots, and goalies make a save otherwise. The percentage splits have stayed much the same as they were last year:

SO Shot Results By Season
Season Goal Miss Save
2005-06 33.9% 13.7% 52.5%
2006-07 32.6% 13.3% 54.1%
Total 33.3% 13.5% 53.1%

Since most shooters only get a handful of shootout opportunities during a season (only ten players had ten attempts or more all last year), it's hard to make any definitive judgements on the broad majority of NHL shooters in terms of ability - they just haven't had the chance to prove themselves. So for the purposes of this discussion, we'll focus on those player with at least 10 SO attempts here in the post-lockout era:

Top 10 SO Shooters by Pct
Player SO Goals Shots Pct
Slava Kozlov, ATL




Jussi Jokinen, DAL




Paul Kariya, NSH




Miroslav Satan, NYI



Mikko Koivu, MIN



Petr Sykora, EDM



Sergei Zubov, DAL



Viktor Kozlov, NYI



Jason Williams, DET



Daniel Briere, BUF




Note: Covers 2005-6 and current season combined, minimum 10 attempts.

A few items jump out from this leaderboard. First off, you have a surprise in the presence of a defenseman in Sergei Zubov. Granted, he has always been an elite offensive blueliner, but common wisdom would suggest that your best finishers would be up front. The other prominent characteristic here is the high proportion of European players - so let's take a look at how shooters fare, based on their country of origin:

SO Shooting Pct by Country
Country Goals Shots Pct Finland 49 95 51.6% Slovakia 34 79 43.0%
Russia 68 163 41.7% USA 50 137 36.5% Canada 156 518 30.1% Czech 44 149 29.5% Sweden 29 102 28.4%

Now, one could make an argument that perhaps the Canadians are getting a bad rap here, due to the high number of shots taken compared to the other countries - one could say that only the top scorers come from Europe to play in the NHL, and that since Canadians make up the bulk of the league, especially in "depth" players, that this muddies their overall totals. If we were looking at overall shooting percentage I might buy into that, but since we're talking about shootouts, which generally only involve a few players from each team, coaches can certainly pick the players they believe can score, and not have to fill spots with 3rd or 4th line players. It's interesting to see the Finns performing so well in this area, as the quick & dirty appraisal you usually hear about Finnish players is that they are disciplined, defensive-minded players (think Esa Tikanen and Jere Lehtinen rather than Teemu Selanne).

I'll follow up with more shootout analysis in the days ahead, starting with a look from the goaltending perspective. Until then, I'll leave you with one more table for your amusement & edification:

Worst SO Shooting Pct
Player Goals Shots Pct
Ilya Kovalchuk, ATL 1 13 7.7%
Jarome Iginla, CGY 1 10 10.0%
Sidney Crosby, PIT 2 12 16.7%
Jaromir Jagr, NYR 2 11 18.2%
Nathan Horton, FLA 2 11 18.2%
Alexei Yashin, NYI 2 10 20.0%
Radim Vrbata, CHI 2 10 20.0%
Joe Sakic, COL 3 13 23.1%
Patrice Bergeron, BOS 4 16 25.0%
Patrik Elias, NJD 3 12 25.0%
Note: Covers 2005-6 and current season combined, minimum 10 attempts.