December 11, 2009
In the Los Angeles Kings' shootout win over the Phoenix Coyotes last night, defenseman Jack Johnson(notes) beat goalie Ilya Bryzgalov(notes) with a soft, change-up shot into the top corner; the kind of thing you might call a "goal-scorer's goal" had it been potted by a forward.
Even though the skills competition went eight rounds, Johnson was the Kings' second shooter, meaning that he got his crack at the breakaway before guys like Dustin Brown(notes), Michal Handzus(notes) and Justin Williams(notes) did. Only Anze Kopitar(notes) had a chance before Johnson.
Then again, Johnson is 4-for-7 this season and 7-for-13 for his NHL career in the shootout. His teammate and fellow D-man Drew Doughty(notes) scored last night on a shoulder-shimmying move, and is now 2-for-4 for his career.
That got us thinking: In an event that was invented in part to prevent defenseman from doing their jobs in an overtime game's final stages, how many defensemen actually participate in shootouts on a regular basis?
Looking back at the last few seasons, there are established leaders for defensemen in the shootout, and some of them are pretty effective. But why aren't there more?
Via NHL.com, here are the Top 10 defensemen in the shootout for this season and the last three:
As you can see, Johnson is one of the best and most frequently used defensemen in the shootout. Dan Boyle(notes) of the San Jose Sharks is right there with him at 4-for-13 in that stretch. Marek Zidlicky(notes) was 3-for-9 for the Nashville Predators and the Minnesota Wild as well.
But as any Pittsburgh Penguins fan will tell you, Kris Letang(notes) may be the king of the shootout for defensemen in the NHL. He's 8-for-20 for his career, and tied with Petr Sykora(notes) with eight attempts last season.
Based on the Top 10's, there really aren't a lot of defensemen getting multiple chances in the shootout. Obviously, coaches are going to load up on skill position players in a 3-vs.-3 battle; if the NHL ever expanded to five shooters, perhaps the totals would rise.
There's also a bit of coaches' preference at play here. Consider that Jack Johnson's 13 attempts all came with Terry Murray as Kings coach. It's also an organizational thing, as Zidlicky and Boyle didn't really get their chances in the shootout until moving to the Wild and the Sharks respectively.
Is fatigue a consideration? Shootout participants are usually also puck-moving defensemen, who are going to see a lot of time in the 4-on-4 OT because that style of hockey demands it.
But if the shootout was ever expanded, would you want to see three forwards and two defensemen as the first five shooters? Or should most D-men be held out into Round Gazillion before Marek Malik'ing it?