March 22, 2011
To put it mildly, the shootout's place in the NHL has been a contentious issue with hockey fans (the majority of the Puck Daddy staff, including myself, feel about it the way Marc Savard(notes) does Matt Cooke(notes)). But while it exists, there's no denying that it continues to have a significant effect on the standings.
The NHL has tried to scale back their value, but watching the Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames battle for the extra point last night was a reminder of just how (unfortunately) crucial they'll be down the stretch.
I managed a decent conversion rate when I played, as a result of loving nothing more in hockey than the uncontested breakaway. I would happily stay out on the rink as long as any goaltender would hang around to face me and a bucket full of pucks dropped at center.
Over those hours, I've compiled a few tips (or just things to look for) that can improve your success (or viewing pleasure) when it comes to penalty shots/shootouts.
1. Proper Speed is Essential
If you know you're going to shoot the puck, you want the goaltender to be as deep in the net as possible. To do this, it helps to take a run at the puck — as in, make it look like you're going to come flying in from the center dot all the way to the crease.
Goaltenders generally try to match your speed so they can stay aggressive on shots, but still be able to get deep if you deke. You can stop taking hard strides not long after entering the zone (and hopefully the goalie continues trying to match your initial speed). In some cases, guys will skate hard longer and literally hit the brakes near the hashmarks — if a goaltender tries to brake with you, he's frozen for a moment, so pull the trigger. If he doesn't, let him get his shoulders right under that crossbar and pick a spot.
If you're dekeing, it makes sense to go with the opposite — since you want the goalie to be out at the top of the crease, you can start out a little slower, and sell shot as hard as you can while you pick up speed. Hopefully you're a good salesmen, and the tender leaves you room to deke around him.
2. If You're Shooting, No 'One-Track Mind'
If you're doing something fancy like the spin-o-rama, it's fine to know exactly where you're going. (Which, if you ask goalies, is probably right to hell). But if you're just heading down to use your big shot, getting locked onto a spot before touching the puck (i.e."I'm gonna go high glove") can leave you with a messed up head when you see the tenders' angles aren't cooperating.
Second guessing yourself can lead to the gun jamming, so get your damn head up, find an opening, then fully commit.
3. So You're Left-Handed
You own low blocker.
If all else fails, low blocker.
If you're 50/50 on shooting spots, low blocker.
I think you get the point.
Coming down on the left side, taking a step to the middle, and pull-snapping a puck the foot off the ice at that spot is shot that's damn near impossible to stop. As a righty, it infuriates me to watch; I almost consider it cheating. It's like cutting across the net in NHL '94. Not cool, dude.
The evolution from there, since both you and the goalie are conscious of that weak spot, is to fake towards it, then go to your backhand. Problem is, when you cut across and try to get it up, it's hard to sneak the puck past the glove, so you almost have to go backhand five-hole, ala Olie Jokinen/Anze Kopitar(notes) from last night.
4. So You're Right-Handed
We've all discovered the glory of shooting high glove (a la Jeff Tambellini), and we don't even have to go cross-body like those evil lefties to do it. It's no near-freebie like low-blocker, but if you can hit your spot, I still like your odds of getting to raise your arms.
As a compromise for the more difficult go-to spot, the hockey gods have given us the option to fake that and go above the pad on the blocker side, a staple of every righty's dekeing arsenal.
As simple as it is, remember, we're hockey players -- we excel at simple. You might as well maximize your odds out there.
The Western Conference continues to be separated by a minuscule number of points, and with single-digit games remaining for most teams, some shootouts will inevitably play a role in playoff seeding. For those following it closely, pay attention to how often even the great players stick to those basic choice that works best when points are at a premium.
Some lefty is going to sashay in, pull-snap one off the inside of the post low-blocker, and his team is going to get into playoffs on the shoulders of that goal. It's the real-life 'NHL '94' glitch, and I can't say I blame anyone for using it.
The shootout is essentially a coin-toss, so you might as well pull out the two-headed coin. If we're going to make it count in the standings, cash in when you can.