Since its introduction nine years ago, the shootout has been an object of affection and derision. The bad-mouthing comes from people who don’t think a skills competition should end a real game. The folks with kind words are easy to find.
They’re the ones standing and cheering during the breakaways.
“I like it because the fans like it,” Detroit assistant coach Tony Granato said. “It’s their game. They are what makes our game. If they want a shootout, they should have a shootout.
“I don’t think it’s lost its pizzazz. No matter where you are in the standings, when a shooter is coming down and you see 17,000 fans come out of their seats, they still like it.”
Shootouts made their way into the NHL because the alternative was kissing your sister (also known as a tie). There were too many teams making out back in 2003-04, when the 170 ties comprised nearly 14 percent of the schedule.
Nowadays, too many teams are going to a shootout. Of the 72 games that reached overtime heading into the weekend, 41 advanced to the breakaway challenge.
“Our managers would like to see games come to completion more in overtime,” Colin Campbell, the NHL’s executive vice president and director of hockey operations, said after last week’s general managers’ meetings.
“A lot of guys are getting sick of it throughout the league,” Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard added. “It was fun at the beginning, but I think how we’re deciding games is a tough way. Sometimes it’s not indicative of how you played. You get in a shootout and the pucks go in, and all of a sudden you didn’t have a good game.”
The potential solution can be found in Rochester and other minor-league cities. The American Hockey League has introduced three-on-three to overtime, and the early results are dramatic. Of the first 47 games to reach OT, only 11 advanced to a shootout. Last season, 65 percent of overtime games went to the shootout.
“I’d like to look at three-on-three,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “We’ve got some pretty nifty guys who could do some magic in a three-on-three situation.”
The current four-on-four format already produces breakaways and odd-man rushes. Giving the stars even more room to operate would lead to end-to-end action.
“That’s kind of the same pretty much as a shootout,” Sabres center Zemgus Girgensons. “It’s kind of a luck game. You go three-on-three, one guy falls and it’s pretty much a done game.”
To add three-on-three, the NHL would likely have to add two more minutes to OT. The AHL puts seven minutes on the clock and starts at four-on-four. Following the first whistle after three minutes of play, the teams switch to three-on-three.
Then, more often than not, someone wins.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if someday we see it,” New Jersey GM Lou Lamiorello said. “We won’t see it this year.”
Said Campbell: “We’re watching, and we didn’t want to make any decisions based on a fifth of the season.”
Leafs will be Leafs
It’s always something in Toronto. This time, it’s the players against the fans.
The Maple Leafs got fed up with their not-so-faithful tossing jerseys and scarves onto the ice, at home and in Buffalo. Phil Kessel said it disrespected the team and its alumni.
“Not just to us or the organization, but to all the Leafs who’ve ever played,” the right winger said. “You want to boo us, but you’re disrespecting all the great players.”
The players decided to fight back Thursday by skipping the postgame stick salute after a victory in Air Canada Centre.
“It was a collective decision throughout our room,” said captain Dion Phaneuf. “This by no means was any attack at our fans or anything personal. It was more about our team and changing our routine.”
Even if that’s true, the Leafs could have picked a calmer time to change things. They went back to it Saturday.
The organization, meanwhile, sent out a warning to the jersey chuckers.
“A patron throwing anything on the playing surface could be charged with trespassing, which would see them barred from all MLSE venues for a minimum of 12 months (possibly for life),” said a Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment official. “Any sweater thrown on the ice is held for a period of time in the event that the police require an investigation. After that, it is donated to charity.”
A sobering reality
The Carolina Hurricanes know the word “hero” doesn’t belong in sports stories. They saw plenty of real ones in February when they drove 70 miles south to practice at Fort Bragg.
Army Special Forces Sgt. Mike Cathcart was among the service members to practice with the Hurricanes.
The two-time Purple Heart recipient skated alongside Jeff Skinner and Riley Nash, and he scored against Cam Ward.
Cathcart, 31, died this month during combat in Afghanistan.
“It puts things in perspective,” Skinner said. “That’s one of my better memories of my time here. We got to know them on a personal level in the time we spent there. It’s sad.”
On the fly
• It was only a matter of time before Ron Hextall showed his fiery side. The Flyers’ GM and former glove-dropping goalie berated players from the team’s changing room in an expletive-filled rant that was audible inside the dressing room. “We’ve got to realize for that to happen, you’ve got to be playing pretty bad,” Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds said.
• The NHL, which is planning a World Cup for 2016, continues to cast a wary eye on the 2018 Olympics. “An Olympics in South Korea is probably a lower priority just simply because they don’t play the game,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. “It’s a long way away, it’s a lot of travel, it’s a big hole in the season. I’m not even sure the appetite is the same from the South Korea organizing committee to make hockey a big deal.”
• Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler has obviously never talked to former Sabres about returning to face your old team. He was shocked to be booed in Vancouver: “When you play somewhere for 10 years, you expect something different. ... Does it hurt? Yeah.”