Shootout Woes Continue to Haunt Flyers

Shootout Woes Continue to Haunt Flyers
Zach Hopkins

The NHL never had an entire season been wiped out due to a work stoppage prior to the 2004-05 lockout. When play finally resumed, there were a slew of rules in place to make sure the ‘New NHL’ was appealing to the litany of fans that had been deprived of the greatest game on ice. Referees were instructed to call more infractions, the two-line pass was eliminated and goaltenders had restrictions on where they could play the puck. The goal, as the NHL saw it, was to make the game more competitive. Low-scoring games were out and a greater emphasis was made to send fans home happy.

The game was changing, and the biggest change of all was one that wouldn’t even play a part in the majority of contests. This was the implementation of the shootout.

The NHL figured that games ending in a tie had too much of an empty feeling; not having a clear-cut victor did not fit into the new competitive vision created to lead the league out of the shadows of a lost campaign. There were mixed emotions over the idea of a shootout deciding games. The thought was exciting as the penalty shot, one-on-one style was always a fan favorite aspect of the game, however, it would now have major implications on the standings as one team would walk away with an extra point.

Traditionalists argued that there was indeed satisfaction after a hard-fought tie in which both teams deserved to win and neither deserved to lose. On the other hand, there was this:

Heck, the guy was put on a stamp in his native Sweden for this incredible move that nobody else had perfected quite as beautifully.

Fast-forward almost a decade and the shootout is still going strong in games that remain deadlocked after 60 minutes of play and a five minute, four-on-four overtime session. The ‘skills competition’, as it is endearingly referred to, has made winners of those who aren’t always deserving of two points and has made losers of those who quite frankly can’t seem to figure it out.

One of the losers is the Philadelphia Flyers.

Since its inception, the Flyers are a putrid 30-61 and hold the dubious honor of being the NHL’s worst performing team in this category. To show a glimpse of how bad they have been, look at the record for each of the previous five seasons:

2010-11 3-7 .300
2011-12 4-7 .364
2012-13 1-2 .333
2013-14 3-8 .273
2014-15 3-10 .231

Giving away 10 points can come back and hurt you when so many teams are saturating the final playoff spots. In this case, those 10 points would have been the difference between the Flyers having a shot at the second wild card versus estimating where their first round draft pick will fall in the likely event they do not win the lottery. Yes, the orange and black have been eliminated from playoff contention and while there are numerous causative misfortunes, the shootout is one of the prime offenders.

Why are the Flyers so historically bad in this event? Is it the shooters? Perhaps the goaltending? Does coaching come in to play? The answer likely is all of the above.

The first thing to remember is that this event is hardest on the masked men that just spent 65 minutes defending their crease against dozens of shots from all over the ice. There are only so many moves a goaltender can perform when attempting to stop a one-on-one scoring attempt.

Some are better at pokechecking and remaining in the crease then others, while some are more comfortable challenging the shooter and relying on their skill sets to make the save. It is the player carrying the puck that has a plethora of opportunity to deposit the rubber into the back of the net. There are endless dekes and moves to be had as well as holes that the netminder may not even know are open.

Advantage: shooter.

The Flyers just can’t seem to get any level of consistency from theirs. Take for instance Claude Giroux. The captain is no stranger to the shootout and has been known to embarrass a goaltender from time to time.

Why then, is Giroux a lousy 1-11 in shootouts this season? He has been unsuccessful almost 91% of the time. There is also Sean Couturier who is 1-8 in the breakaway challenge for a slightly better 12.5% success rate.

Vincent Lecavalier and Brayden Schenn are a combined 0-7. That is 2-26 from four skilled forwards that one could argue have no reason to be out there in this type of event. Imagine telling your captain and arguably best player that he isn’t bringing anything to the table with the game on the line.

Then there is the coaching aspect.

While everybody knows that the coaching staff can’t skate out and take the shots themselves, they can do a better job of playing the numbers and realizing when a player may be losing confidence in the event. Wayne Simmonds didn’t become a regular participant until after the All-Star break and he has gone 4-7 while leading the team with a 57% success rate. Jake Voracek leads the club with five shootout goals in 11 attempts, but also wasn’t initially a top-three consideration from the start of the season.

Instead of sending the usual suspects out for each shootout, the coaches should look how their players have been performing of late while also playing historical matchups to their advantage. Force the players to perfect this at every practice and note those who are comfortable as compared to those who are not.

After all of the above is taken into consideration, the team should theoretically send out the three skaters that give them the best chance to succeed and each shootout does not have to consist of the same guys. Out with the gut feelings and in with the analytics. These calculated intangibles will likely be where the shootout is won as you’re just hoping your goaltender can save more shots than the opposition.

The Flyers will at least have something to look forward to other than golf as an imminent rule change could greatly reduce the incidence of shootouts.

The NHL is poised to move to a three on three overtime format which will greatly open up the ice and likely lead to more game-winning goals. Will this help to solve the Flyers woes when it comes to finishing opponents? Only time will tell, but one thing that is certain is that an entire organization and fan base will be rooting for it if it means returning to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

What are your thoughts on the shootout and the newly proposed overtime period? Continue the conversation below or on twitter @healedbyhockey

Zach Hopkins

Zach Hopkins has been a fan of hockey since he was old enough to say “Let’s Go Flyers!” Born and raised outside of Philadelphia, he has spent the majority of his life playing, talking and writing about the coolest game on earth. When not at the rink watching or playing in a game, he can be found teaching his four-year-old son the history of the sport and is proud to announce that the little man can name all 30 NHL clubs and multiple players per squad. Zach has contributed to multiple hockey outlets and currently can be found dishing out fantasy and prospect news at Dobberhockey and Dobberprospects. At TSS, this hockey connoisseur will write about the Philadelphia Flyers.

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