NHL goalies ready for ‘nightmare’ of 3-on-3 overtime

New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider squirts water on his face during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

TORONTO – Steven Stamkos was practically salivating while discussing the NHL’s new overtime format. 

“I wasn’t a fan of shootouts myself. Mostly because I wasn’t any good at them,” he said, with a laugh. “I’d much, much rather have the 3-on-3.”

Six skaters, five minutes and complete chaos. That’s the recipe for the latest variation of overtime from the NHL, debuting this season after a test run in the American Hockey League.

The switch from 4-on-4 to 3-on-3 overtime doesn’t just mean a reduction in shootouts, as its test run in the AHL indicated will happen. It means a potential goldmine of offensive stats for players like Stamkos, who had five overtime game-winners in his 60-goal season three years ago.

“The players that get to play in the 3-on-3 are going to have more points, and that’ll make them happy,” he said.

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Consider this: In 2013-14, the AHL only had 35.5 percent of its overtime games end with a goal before the shootout; but in 2014-15, with 4-on-4 overtime combined with 3-on-3 overtime in a seven-minute period, 75 percent of overtime games ended before the shootout.

That’s a whole bunch of goals being added to the stat sheet; and unlike in the shootout, they count toward season totals.“The shootout was great for the first few years. But a lot of players and goalies aren’t really happy with it now,” said Stamkos. “

Oh, right: goalies.

The other side of this equation. The last line of defense; and in the 3-on-3, at times the only semblance of defense.

Isn’t this format going to totally suck for them?

“It’s going to be a nightmare,” said New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider. “I can think of a few duos in my division alone that are going to be extremely hard to handle in that situation.”

Schneider was the lone goalie on the NHL competition committee that helped shape the new overtime format. Like with most changes in the League’s rules, Schneider understood he was going to be in the minority – a voice representing defense while the rules are promoting offense.

“I understand that goalies make up a fraction of the league; less than 10 percent of the membership. And I understand the appetite for more goal scoring,” he said. “I don’t want to speak on behalf of all the goalies, but I wanted to voice concerns about injuries, and about an increase in goals-against average and a decrease in save percentage and all that.”

While their stats will be impacted – whether it’s positively or negatively might depend on shot volume – there’s also a question of durability. Does going post-to-post 20 times in a minute after playing 60 minutes of regulation hockey give anyone pause about potential injuries?

Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers said that health isn’t a concern, especially because games will end before the shootout.

“I would be surprised if it goes to a shootout now. Three-on-three, I feel, should be able to create enough good scoring chances to end the game,” he said.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of situations where you’re like, ‘What just happened? Was that a 3-on-0 breakaway?’”

The fun factor left the shootout fairly early for the skaters, who saw goalies dominate in the skills competition: From 2005-2014, the average scoring rate in the shootout was just 32.97 percent. Sure, there were some players that were particularly adept at it, but the goalies had the advantage.

In the 3-on-3 … not so much.

“People might be sorta feeling sorry for the goalies,” said Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins, laughing. “But I’m a guy that’s not really against it, because I didn’t really like the shootouts.”

Rask is a lot like his goaltending brethren we spoke with: He’s apprehensively intrigued by the 3-on-3.

“It depends on what kind of tactics they use. Are coaches going to play more defense? Are they going to go for it offensively? It could be a free-for-all with 2-on-1s and 3-on-1s,” he said.

Although it means goalies like Rask are going to basically breakdance in the crease to stop these circus chances from shooters – and watch their stats potentially take a beating – even they have to admit it’s going to be entertaining as hell.

“It’s going to be challenging. But it should be fun, too,” said Lundqvist.

“I’m a fan. I’m a fan of the game. We’re really going to see what they guys can do on open ice,” said Schneider.

“And it’s going to lead to less shootouts, which is the goal.”