Shootout success paramount in shortened NHL season
Flames realize value of extra points when all are awarded within the conference
Titillating fans. Embarrassing goalies. Stress-testing shooters.
There is plenty to like about shootouts in the National Hockey League, but their days as a late-night gimmick should be long over — especially here.
The Calgary Flames were 3-9 in shootouts last winter. Had they gone 9-3, they would have leapfrogged the Los Angeles Kings and stepped into the playoffs.
The importance is not lost on the locals.
“People are becoming more much aware of the significance and impact of the shootout,” says Michael Cammalleri. “At first it was just an ad lib thing. Now you’ll see people focusing on it, practising it, actually working on it.”
Adds T.J. Brodie: “Obviously, after looking at last year, they want to put more emphasis on shootouts to try to make sure that we get as many points as we can. Because down the road, you never know.”
Each season, shootouts do make a difference on the conference tables.
With today’s truncated schedule — all within the conference — success is even more vital.
“That point (lost) really hurts,” says coach Bob Hartley. “In an 82-game season, if you’re playing against the other conference, that point — what I call the ‘floating point’ — never hurts you because it goes to the neighbours. But this year, it stays on your side. It should have a big effect on the standings.”
In Vancouver last week, the Flames stumbled in the shootout — Alex Burrows and Zack Kassian counted for the hosts, Alex Tanguay for the travellers.
But have no fear.
Near-daily, the team works on it. Bank on a half-dozen more showdowns.
“If you look at it objectively,” says Tanguay, resident shootout ace, “in a 48-game season the difference might be three, four points between 12th and fifth. So, certainly, those are crucial points.
“I’m not a big fan of the shootout, personally. It’s very spectacular — don’t get me wrong — and it’s great for the product, but you’d rather have four-on-four winning the game . . . as opposed to a bit of a coin-toss.”
To that end, the coaches are making every effort to improve the odds.
Hartley gives the selection of participants his full attention. He knows their shootout history. He eyes them in practice. He and his staff are constantly sorting — and re-sorting — their wish-list.
“We always talk about this — every morning of a game,” says Hartley. “Then just before the game, I’ll challenge my guys, ‘Are we comfortable with this?’ Then, if the score is tied after two periods, I’ll go back into the (coaches’) room and say, ‘OK, this guy seems to be asleep. This guy seems to be good.’ There’s many factors.”
Historically, the post-overtime exercise has not been the Flames’ best friend.
All-time, they have a paltry 26 shootout victories — 21 teams have 35 or more. They have a grand total of six shootout wins on home ice, by far the fewest. New Jersey, by comparison, has 30.
Their team save percentage is .606 — only Toronto and Winnipeg are worse.
But with their recent talent upgrade, the Flames do have an array of capable shooters — with newcomers such as Jiri Hudler, Roman Cervenka, Sven Baertschi, and even Dennis Wideman.
“With our arsenal,” says Tanguay, “shootouts shouldn’t be a weak link.”
Somewhat surprisingly, it had been Brodie who scored twice with nifty dekes Monday. But taking those moves from morning’s empty rink to evening’s sellout house is never easy.
“If the time came, I’d be ready,” says Brodie, a shifty defender who’d gone 1-for-3 in the American Hockey League this season (and 0-for-2 last season in the NHL). “But who knows if that would ever happen?”
When the tap does come, it’s a rush.
Imagine standing on the far blue line, waiting for the referee’s go-ahead, knowing 20,000 sets of eyeballs are trained on you — and only you. Must be unnerving, no?
“It’s fun,” says Cammalleri. “A cool challenge, a unique experience. You definitely feel that spotlight. But you try not to think about all that. You want to come up with a game plan that’s going to help you score a goal.”
Adds Stempniak: “There’s no other instances in a game when it’s such a controlled one-on-one situation. The game can be on your stick . . . me, I enjoy the pressure of being someone who’s counted on.”
Follow Scott Cruickshank on Twitter/CruickshankCH
CALGARY FLAMES’ SHOOTOUT ACES
Current members of the Flames with one or more shootout goals to their credit:
(GDG — game deciding goal)
Player Goals, Attempts, Percentage, GDG
1. Alex Tanguay 19, 49, 38.8, 9
2. Jiri Hudler 12, 37, 32.4, 5
3. Lee Stempniak 10, 32, 31.2, 5
4. Michael Cammalleri 9, 35, 25.7, 5
5. Jarome Iginla 9, 6, 25.0, 4
6. Dennis Wideman 2, 8, 25.0, 1
7. Curtis Glencross 2, 9, 22.2, 1
8. Blair Jones 1, 2, 50.0, 0
9. Blake Comeau 1, 4, 25.0, 0
10. Matt Stajan 1, 5, 20.0, 0
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald