Shootouts are down throughout the NHL, has league gone far enough?

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Few topics will spark as much debate as the shootout. Passionate old-school fans will say it’s a gimmicky skills competition that has no business deciding games. Other fans will say it’s one of the most exciting things in the sport and is a vast improvement upon the dreaded tie that used to decide too many hockey games. Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, most people will acknowledge that the shootout is here to stay for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, some attention is being focused on the effect the shootout has on the game as opposed to debating the shootout’s place in the game.

Teams are certainly learning to attack the end of games, overtime, and the shootout in different ways as they acclimate themselves to the change. Since the lockout, we’ve seen coaches start to veer away strictly putting superstars in the skills competition and start putting in guys who simply excel at the shootout. We’ve even seen the genesis of a new term in the hockey fan’s lexicon: “Shootout specialist.” You can decide if that’s a good thing or not.

It was decided by the NHL that something needed to change with the shootout. It wasn’t going anywhere, but they decided to water down the value of those wins that came via shootout. More importantly, they wanted to increase the value of any win that was earned by the entire team on the ice instead of the 1-on-1 showdown. (Of course, when we say “entire team,” we’re including 4-on-4 overtimes). The rule change is simple—and subtle: when two teams are tied at the end of the season, the first tiebreaker will be wins NOT acquired via shootout.

As the season winds down, it looks like the NHL may have succeeded. From NHL.com:

“Through 1,065 games this season, there have been 124 shootouts, a pace that would result in 143 over a full 1,230-game season. That’s a 22 percent drop from the 184 shootouts last season, and two fewer than the 145 in 2005-06, the first season the tiebreaker was used to settle games that were even after overtime.

It’s not that a lot more games are being decided in regulation — the 23.8 percent of games tied after 60 minutes are just slightly fewer than last season’s 24.5 percent (254 so far; 283 over a 1,230-game season, down from 301 in 2009-10), and still more than any of the four previous seasons since the arrival of the shootout. But while 61.1 percent of games that went into overtime last season went to a shootout, that figure is down to 48.8 percent — a number that would be the lowest in the shootout’s six seasons.”

For those fans who want games decided by 5 skaters playing against 5 others, this should be viewed as a positive development. It might not be exactly what they want, but certainly baby steps in the right direction. The games have been extremely exciting and increasingly it appears that teams want to win the game in OT instead of sitting back for the shootout.

Let’s throw this out to the readers. Judging by the statistics, fewer games are being decided in the shootout. Do you think the NHL has gone far enough to discourage teams playing for the shootout or do you think weighing victories as a tiebreaker is enough? We’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments.

Holtby ‘wasn’t as sharp as he can be,’ says Trotz

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Presidents’ Trophy winners once again in the regular season, the Capitals once again face an uphill climb if they are to advance beyond the rival Penguins and the second round of the playoffs.

What began with a strong first period for the Capitals in Game 2, albeit without a reward on the score board, faded into a frustrating 6-2 rout, as the Penguins took a commanding 2-0 series lead as it shifts back to Pittsburgh for a pivotal Game 3 on Monday.

Braden Holtby was pulled after the second period. He gave up three goals on 14 shots, while his opponent at the other end, Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant with 34 saves.

“He’ll tell you that he can be better. He’s a straight up guy and he will be. I was just trying to change the mojo,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz of his decision to sit Holtby.

“I thought some of the goals, he wasn’t as sharp as he can be for us. He’s a game-changer for us. So when he didn’t change the game, I just looked to change the mojo a little bit there. That’s all. Braden’s our backbone. He has been all year. We’ve got to find some goals for him, too. We can’t just put it on Braden Holtby.”

Now in a deep but not insurmountable hole against the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Capitals reportedly held a players’ only meeting following this latest defeat.

After failing to open the scoring in an otherwise dominant first period, Washington surrendered three goals in the second, as the Penguins broke it wide open with their transition game, led by two great plays from Sidney Crosby.

“We can’t get frustrated. I think that would be our biggest mistake is to get frustrated right now,” said T.J. Oshie, before expanding on the meeting between the players.

“It was things that people need to say and things that some people need to hear. We were very together with what we said. I don’t need to go into details. Sometimes in our game … you need to hear from your teammates more than your coach. And tonight was one of those nights.

“It was the players in here and what was said is what needed to be said.”

We’ll find out Monday if what was said actually has any impact on the ice.

Penguins rout Capitals to take commanding series lead

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The Washington Capitals are in trouble. Against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Again.

Despite a dominant first period, at least in terms of shots on Marc-Andre Fleury and puck possession, the Capitals saw this game go sideways in a hurry during the second period, on the way to a 6-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 2.

Washington is now in quite a hole, trailing its nemesis 2-0 in this second-round series.

Last year, Matt Murray stymied the Capitals. Though it’s only been two games this year, Fleury has stepped up in the absence of the injured Murray and given the Penguins solid goaltending and frustrated a dangerous Capitals lineup.

After withstanding the storm of pressure from the Capitals in the first period, the Penguins broke this game open with a trio of second-period goals. It started with a shorthanded goal from Matt Cullen, and later continued with a beautiful goal from Phil Kessel and then Jake Guentzel‘s sixth goal of these playoffs.

That led Barry Trotz to take Braden Holtby out of the game, after he gave up three goals on 14 shots, putting in Phillip Grubauer to begin the third period. The Penguins continued the onslaught.

For the Penguins, there are some injury concerns to keep an eye on.

Patric Hornqvist left the game in the first period after blocking a shot around his foot or ankle. He didn’t return. Ron Hainsey had to go to the locker room late in the third period after taking an Alex Ovechkin shot up around the head.

Game 3 goes Monday in Pittsburgh.

‘I wasn’t good enough,’ says Lundqvist after double OT loss to Senators

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The task wasn’t impossible, but certainly daunting.

The Ottawa Senators needed five goals on Henrik Lundqvist just to send Game 2 into overtime.

The Rangers goalie had been spectacular for most of this post-season entering Saturday’s contest, but the Senators, led by a sensational four-goal performance from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, found a way to break through for a 6-5 double overtime win to take a 2-0 series lead against New York.

They did so on just 34 shots through almost 83 minutes against Lundqvist.

“I wasn’t good enough,” said Lundqvist, per the New York Daily News. “Coming up with the extra save there in the end, that’s my job. Even though it’s tough plays on deflections, I’ve got to find a way.”

On three occasions, the Rangers held a two-goal lead. That includes with under five minutes remaining in regulation. They even had a pair of shorthanded goals. But they couldn’t hang on, as Pageau scored twice in the final 3:19 of regulation to record his hat trick.

That set the stage for the eventual winner, as he beat Lundqvist over the left shoulder with a shot from his off-wing on a two-on-one rush.

With the Senators in control, the series returns to New York for Game 3 on Tuesday and Game 4 on Thursday.

“We played well enough to win this game, there’s no question about it,” said Lundqvist. “It’s really tough to lose this one. Clearly they’ve gotten the bounces here in the first two games.”

Capitals’ Holtby begins third period on the bench, Grubauer takes over in net

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Braden Holtby began the third period of Saturday’s Game 2 on the bench, giving way to Philipp Grubauer.

The Washington Capitals fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 after two periods, with Holtby allowing three goals on just 14 shots. It will be interesting to hear the reason for this decision from coach Barry Trotz following the game.

The Capitals had dominated on the shot clock, but gave up a pair of quick goals to fall further behind Pittsburgh in this game, while trailing in the series 1-0.

Phil Kessel — on a great play from Sidney Crosby — and Jake Guentzel scored 3:10 apart to give Pittsburgh a two-goal lead.