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A few choice words about shootouts

By Nicole Weissman

I’ve developed a bad habit of shutting my eyes during shootouts. I’ve never been a fan of this high-anxiety tie-breaker – sudden-death overtime is scary enough. I think all devoted fans hate shootouts, and I’ll tell you why: they’re pretty much arbitrary. 

According to, out of the 54 shootouts they’ve had, the Caps have won 40.7 precent, making us sixth-worst in the league. The best team, Dallas, has won 63.1%.  That means that pretty much everyone falls in the 50 percent range, also known as coin-toss territory. If you look at the teams with the lowest winning percentage, the list includes some teams who have struggled in recent years, but also the likes of Anaheim, Detroit, and Washington. 

Still not convinced that shootouts are arbitrary? Soccer fans have complained about this random, unsatisfying end to tied matches for eons. Granted, penalty kicks in soccer are probably even more random, because the keeper goes one direction, and he either guessed right or he guessed wrong.  In hockey, goalies get more time to read the shot, since shooters take the puck all the way from the blue line. 

So what makes the Caps struggle with the shootout? Well, if you are inclined to agree with me that the shootout is arbitrary, then nothing contributes to our record except a little bad luck. But for the sake of entertainment, let’s look at a couple factors that cut against us. 

Goaltending is obviously crucial here, and while the Caps have had a combination of young and more seasoned goaltenders since shootouts began, most folks would agree that it hasn’t been our strongest position. That being said, I thought Neuvirth was top notch in the shootout last night, proving once again that he has not only the technical skill, but also the nerve to make it in the NHL.

Well there’s only one factor in the shootout other than goalies, and that’s shooters. For a team as good as the Caps, with as many high-scoring players as we had last year, we do have a hard time picking out three reliable shooters. 

Ovechkin’s lifetime shootout record is under 30 percent, but of course he’s not going anywhere as far as the shootout lineup is concerned. Semin is another shoe-in, and his jaw-dropping slapshot shootout goal last night was one of my all-time favorites. But who’s third? Last night it was Backstrom, but in my favorite shootout of last season, it was Mike Knuble. It tends to be anyone who’s on a roll, which isn’t a bad strategy but it doesn’t allow any of our guys to build expertise in this area. 

In other words, the Caps aren’t putting a tremendous amount of thought or planning into the shootout, which is fine with me. Go with your gut. Send anybody. Send a backup goaltender or a recent call-up and make a splash, because the shootout was installed for entertainment value, not hockey value, so we may as well realize entertainment is all it’s good for.

By Nicole Weissman  | November 4, 2010; 3:33 PM ET
Categories:  Capitals, Nicole Weissman  | Tags:  Capitals, Nicole Weissman  
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The shootout is a fine way to end a game and I was almost born at a Caps game and have been watching since birth and playing since I was 4 so not all devoted fans hate it. You say that everyone falls into the 50% range. Well on average every team is in the 50% range in the regular games. The 6th worst team over the entire 82 game regular season last year was Tampa who won 41% of their games. The Caps were the best team and they won 66% of their games. Which means most teams fall in the same range that the shootouts have. So the shoot out is very similar in winning % to the games as a whole and just like the regular games there are teams that are good at in and teams that are bad.

There is one reason why the Caps have struggled in them since they started and that is while we have very talented scorers they then to out think themselves when given the time to think about what they want to do. Ovechkin is best when he is being forced to make amazing moves out of necessity to avoid a defender. When he gets time to think about his move he often overthinks himself and gets too fancy and gets stopped. This isn't just in shootouts this is also when he gets clear breakaways as well. In yesterday's game both Oveckin and Semin made little to no deaking moves and just worried about getting the good shot off.

Posted by: icehammer97 | November 4, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

I dont think it's arbitrary when one team succeeds at a 40% level and another is above 60%. More than just arbitrary. Why? You've got skill against skill, and not just a random series of events.

Comparisons to soccer are tenuous at best. The soccer net is huge, the goalie can't challenge the shooter who is stationary and pretty damn close. Compare that to hockey where the player is moving along with the puck, the goalie can challenge and position himself appropriately and the net is only 6x4.

Why have the Caps struggled? Pretty clearly its due to the shooters and not the goaltending. Caps are near the bottom in terms of scoring % on the shootout while the overall save percentage is right in the middle.

Posted by: dcsportsfan1 | November 5, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

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