Marc Andre Fleury, Jussi Jokinen

Shootout stars: The best forwards in the ‘skills competition’

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If you ask many hockey snobs, the shootout is a vile device. In a way it’s the hockey equivalent to a hugely popular but critically reviled rock band. Think of it as the Nickelback or Creed of hockey; millions seem entertained by it, yet admitting as much can bring you shame.

That being said, the shootout is a necessary evil that NHL teams must acknowledge. Considering the razor-thin margin of error you’ll often find in the battles for final playoff spots, franchises have every reason to research ways in which they can increase their chances of success in what many call a “glorified skills competition.”

Last weekend, Adam Gretz tabbed Jarrett Stoll’s 9-for-10 run from the 2010-11 season as the best single campaign in the history of the shootout. Gretz based that determination on percentage, which allowed Stoll’s 10-11 run (90 percent) to best more prolific but less efficient campaigns by Wojtek Wolski (10 for 12 in 08-09 for 83.3 percent) and Jussi Jokinen (10 for 13 for 76.9 percent).

That being said, Gretz presented the biggest problem with dealing with single season results: it’s such a small sample that the findings aren’t very useful. Gretz demonstrated that dynamic by pointing out that Wolski made the best and worst lists. With that small sample size in mind, I wanted to know a little more. To be exact, I wanted to know which players have been the best overall. The shootout has existed for six seasons, so that gives us a more plentiful sample size.

To answer those questions, I’ll tackle forwards in this first post and goalies/teams in the second one. I’m going to look at quantity alone and provide the leaders in two different stats categories supplied by NHL.com: 1. total goals and 2. “game deciding goals” (which appear to be the shootout equivalent to a game-winning goal).

Here’s a table of the top 10 goal scorers in the shootout since its inception. Home attempts, home goals, road attempts, road goals, shooting percentage and game-deciding goals are also provided for your enjoyment. (Total goals are in bold)

Player Home A Home G Road A Road G Goals S% GDG
Jussi Jokinen 28 12 32 16 28 46.7 9
Pavel Datsyuk 25 11 29 15 26 48.1 9
Brad Richards 31 14 29 11 25 41.7 11
Radim Vrbata 25 12 26 12 24 47.1 10
Brad Boyes 25 10 27 14 24 46.2 8
Erik Christensen 20 12 23 11 23 53.5 11
Mikko Koivu 27 16 25 7 23 44.2 10
Ales Kotalik 18 9 26 13 22 50 11
Wojtek Wolski 22 10 28 12 22 44 5
Rick Nash 29 12 29 10 22 37.9 6

***

Total goals rank as the most relevant stat, but for all of its faults, shootouts can be exciting when a player is given a chance to win the game with a great move. (We all remember the triple deke from “The Mighty Ducks,” don’t we?)

With that in mind, here are the all-time leaders in game deciding goals.

Player GDG
Sidney Crosby 13
Phil Kessel 12
Brad Richards 11
Erik Christensen 11
Ales Kotalik 11
Radim Vrbata 10
Mikko Koivu 10
Martin Erat 10
Jussi Jokinen 9
Pavel Datsyuk 9
Zach Parise 9
Alex Tanguay 9

***

One can only imagine some sportswriter somewhere will find a way to shoehorn Crosby’s 13 GDG’s into a narrative about his “clutch-ness” (while ignoring Kotalik’s name on this list in the process). You may notice a few names that appear on both lists; Jokinen, Vrbata, Koivu, Datsyuk, Richards, Kotalik and Christensen were in the top 10 in both categories. That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, but it does support their overall mastery of the shootout.

One other thing that stands out is Erat’s penchant for scoring important shootout goals. Ten of his 14 career shootout goals decided games and his overall shootout shooting percentage is 37.8 percent. Does that make him the Chris Drury of shootouts? (For supposed “clutch factor” … not getting bought out after getting injured and being paid too much.)

Overall, it seems like Jokinen might be the king of the shootout, although Richards, Datsyuk and Vrbata could make legitimate claims to the throne as well. Either way, NHL teams should keep tabs on which players are most successful in the shootout (and agents might want to keep those stats handy, too). You never know when that might make the difference in a playoff run … just ask the 2009-10 New York Rangers about that.

Clarke MacArthur helped off ice during Sens scrimmage

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 8: Clarke MacArthur #16 of the Ottawa Senators skates with the puck during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center on October 8, 2015 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/ Getty Images)
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Rough news for the Ottawa Senators on Sunday: forward Clarke MacArthur needed help off the ice following a big hit during a team scrimmage.

The hit was delivered by Patrick Sieloff, prompting an immediate response from Bobby Ryan, according to The Hockey News’ Murray Pam.

MacArthur has been hoping to return to NHL action after some serious concussion issues, so this is a troubling situation. More than a few people wonder if this might end his career.

Team Europe is happy to play underdog role

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TORONTO (AP) When the World Cup of Hockey started, Team Europe was not picked as a team to beat.

In fact, the unique team made up of eight nations outside of the continent’s traditional hockey powers was expected to be out of the best-on-best tournament.

Team Europe had other plans.

The blended group of players opened the tournament with a 3-0 win over the U.S. and then beat the Czech Republic in overtime to seal a spot in the semifinals before losing to Canada.

“I know nobody really expected us to be here right now,” Danish and Detroit Red Wings forward Frans Nielsen said Saturday. “But when you look in the room and go over the team, there’s not a lot of players better than (Anze) Kopitar in this tournament. We got (Marian) Hossa. We got some good guys on the backend and good goaltending.”

The Europeans will face Sweden on Sunday for a spot in the best-of-three finals against the winner of Saturday night’s Canada-Russia game.

When Team Europe players have faced Sweden for their countries – Switzerland, Denmark, Slovakia, France, Germany, Slovenia, Austria and Norway – in previous, they didn’t have a legitimate chance to win.

They do now.

A veteran group of skaters and a star in Kopitar along with Slovak and New York Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak give them a shot on any sheet of ice.

“He’s the kind of goalie that almost every night, he gives you a chance to win,” said Nielsen, who played with Halak in New York. “And, he’ll make that save when you need it.”

Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger said he’ll likely save his rah-rah speeches for another team because this one simply doesn’t need it.

Krueger began to sense something special was in store for Team Europe nearly a year ago when several candidates to be on the team met when Boston and the New York Islanders played. When the entire group gathered nearly three weeks ago in Quebec, Krueger got even more excited about the natural chemistry the team already had from their shared experiences.

“We didn’t have to do a lot of extra team-building,” Krueger said. “It just happened with a combination of leadership and personalities and character and will – of pure will – of these eight nations that are forever underdogs, forever going home when the final four is staged, forever watching other teams play in finals of best of best. That opportunity has fueled the fire that taken us here.”

Follow Larry Lage at http://www.twitter.com/larrylage and follow his work at http://www.bigstory.ap.org/content/larry-lage

Sadly, Crosby praise still comes at Ovechkin’s expense

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Alex Ovechkin #8 and Sidney Crosby #87 shake hands following Team Canada's  5-3 victory to move on to the finals during the World Cup of Hockey at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at Air Canada Centre on September 24, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)
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Here’s a homework assignment for you: praise Sidney Crosby‘s incredible work without downgrading Alex Ovechkin.

Yes, it’s not easy.

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun presented an interesting column that spotlighted an admittedly “tired narrative” while still ultimately pumping up Crosby at Ovechkin’s expense.

LeBrun quoted anonymous executives who, yes, trotted out tired narratives. One executive did the baseball thing in making it Crosby (“five-tool guy”) vs. Ovechkin (“home run hitter”) while another equated it to a full-court player vs. a “half-court” player.

It’s all … well, tiresome.

Ovechkin may not have had the greatest game of his life on Saturday, but watching that game, was the takeaway really that he let Russia down? That the difference between the two teams was, in any way, about Crosby over Ovechkin?

You can throw out all sorts of stats or lean on the eye test to note how over-matched Russia really was in that game. Or you can consider the defensemen Russia dressed in a best-on-best clash:

Dmitry Kulikov, Dmitry Orlov, Nikita Zaitsev, Alexey Marchenko, Alexei Emelin, Andrei Markov and Nikita Nesterov.

Yikes.

Search your soul for a second and ask: how uneasy would an NHL team feel about that group of blueliners? Such a collection would struggle against one of the league’s 30 squads, let alone against a virtual All-Star team.

Is Crosby better than Ovechkin? There’s a strong chance that is the case, because of the whole “Crosby probably being the best player of his generation” thing.

How about this for a daring idea, though: why not enjoy the work of both players?

Ovechkin is easily the best sniper of his generation, and with 82 points in 84 career playoff games, sure seems like a strong big-game player. As we all know, hockey is a team sport, yet the blame falls on Ovechkin again and again.

Instead, let’s give Crosby and the rest of his brilliant teammates our attention, as we’ve seen here, here and here.

Datsyuk made some magic in North American ‘final act’

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 19: Pavel Datsyuk #13 of Russia skates against Germany at Ice Palace on May 19, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Anna Sergeeva/Getty Images)
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TORONTO (AP) Pavel Datsyuk’s North American magic show had one final act.

Months after deciding to leave the NHL and go home to Russia, the Detroit Red Wings great showed off his fanciful skillset one last time on this side of the ocean at the World Cup of Hockey. A lower-body injury may have cut his tournament short but not before another remarkable performance against players 15 to 20 years younger.

Datsyuk’s legs aren’t what they used to be at age 38, but he was a difference maker killing penalties and keeping up with the pace of a lightning-fast end-to-end victory against Team North America that helped Russia advance. He missed Russia’s round-robin finale Thursday against Finland and was scratched again from the lineup Saturday night against Canada.

Datsyuk left a lasting memory on the NHL, especially to his peers who appreciate his play the most from watching him up close.

“Oh, he’s unbelievable,” said Russian star Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins. “You do not see much what he (can) do because he’s so professional. He’s (the) most professional I’ve ever seen.”

Datsyuk had 314 goals and 604 assists in 953 games for the Red Wings over 14 seasons. But his play with the puck is more memorable than the points he scored with it, so much so that Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri, used to recognize Datsyuk as “the magic man.”

Mike Babcock, who coached Datsyuk in Detroit before joining the Toronto Maple Leafs, said the Russian was a pleasure to be around and someone he learned a lot from. Babcock, who’s coaching Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews with Canada for a third time, knows Datsyuk wasn’t as prodigious as those stars who were elite as teenagers but said he made a major impact when he entered the NHL at age 21.

“His span, I don’t know how many years it was, in my opinion he was the best forward in hockey in that time,” Babcock said Thursday. “Lots of people would say somebody else scored more points. He was the best player in hockey up front for a period of time with and without the puck.”

Datsyuk made it look as if he had the puck on a string and was among the best at knocking it away from opponents. Four times he won the Lady Byng Trophy awarded to the player who exemplifies sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of ability.

That standard hasn’t faded. Russia coach Oleg Znarok said in Datsyuk’s case, “age doesn’t matter.”

“He is responsible for a lot of roles on our team like penalty kill,” he said through an interpreter. “Definitely one of the best players.”

Datsyuk signed with SKA St. Petersburg to finish his playing career in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. He has great respect from the game’s top players, and those who played with him understand that the most.

“Talking with guys on (the U.S.) team and guys that I’ve come across, (they know) just how good he is with the puck and his takeaways,” former Red Wings teammate Justin Abdelkader said. “He practices every day. A lot of people don’t see, but he’s always playing after games, small-area games or 1-on-1 with players. It just shows his commitment and how good he is.”

As exciting as watching Datsyuk in games has been for fans for over a decade, Abdelkader isn’t the only player in awe of his practice habits. Russian teammate Vladislav Namestnikov called Datsyuk “unreal” and figures he’ll get better just from soaking in how his elder prepares for games in the gym and after practice.

Injuries have hampered Datsyuk and he was traded at the draft – to the Arizona Coyotes to give Detroit cap relief. He’s on the Coyotes’ roster this season despite playing in the KHL, where he already has seven points in six games.

Datsyuk leaving with one year left on his contract may have rubbed some people the wrong way, but Babcock points out it happened for the right reason.

“Age catches up to all of us,” Babcock said. “But he’s still an effective player and he’s chosen to go home to be around his family and that’s good for Pavel.”

Follow Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .