Canada may have the best team on paper, but they aren’t necessarily the best at shootouts. If it comes down to a skills competition in the knockout round, which three players will coach Mike Babcock turn to?
Thanks to Team USA’s edge-of-seat 3-2 win over Russia in the preliminary round, the value of having a shootout whiz on your roster has been reaffirmed. If not for T.J. Oshie’s vast array of razzle and dazzle, the Americans’ road to the quarterfinals and beyond might have been more daunting. Oshie is 7-for-10 this season in the NHL in shootouts (70 per cent), and 54 per cent in lifetime attempts, making him the most effective penalty-shot taker among the Olympians. Teammate James van Riemsdyk (60 per cent this season, 50 overall) isn’t far behind. For Russia, their top three picks all hover around 40 per cent during their NHL careers in shootouts, which isn’t awful, but also isn’t in Oshie/JVR territory. But what about Canada? Iif you’re Canadian coach Mike Babcock, with so many skilled players to choose from, which three players do you put your faith in with everything on the line?
The stats dictate Jonathan Toews is your go-to guy. He’s 7-for-13 this season and 50 per cent in 68 career chances. Naturally, Sidney Crosby has to be penciled in. Even if he wasn’t a respectable 42 per cent lifetime, there’s no way Babcock is duplicating the infamous 1998 controversy, when Wayne Gretzky’s stick was left on the bench in a shootout loss to the Czechs. It’s when you get to the third shooter, the player on whom a gold medal could hinge, that things get interesting. There is no clear-cut favorite. Corey Perry, Patrick Sharp, Rick Nash and Patrice Bergeron all have lots of experience in the shootout, but none is above 40 per cent for their careers. Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, John Tavares and Martin St-Louis are even worse. Patrick Marleau is 4-for-9 this season, has a calm demeanor and Olympics experience on his resume; maybe he gets the nod? Then there’s Matt Duchene, the third best Canadian statistically this season. He’s clicked on three of five chances, a small sample size on which to affix a nation’s hopes. Some of Canada’s foremost shootout stars were left home. Logan Couture, Joffrey Lupul, Andrew Ladd, Jordan Eberle, Claude Giroux, Matt Moulson, James Neal and Joe Thornton are all above 50 per cent this season, and 40 per cent on their careers, on the breakaway competition. Of course, the shooters are just half the story. In 1998, Dominik Hasek was nearly the entire story. There is no Hasek this time around, but of the No. 1 stoppers in Sochi, Jonathan Quick and Sergei Bobrovksy are having the best NHL seasons in terms of shootout saves. Curiously, Henrik Lundqvist and Tuukka Rask have struggled at the discipline in 2013-14. As a reminder, Olympic contests go to a shootout after five minutes of four-on-four hockey in the preliminary round. In the knockout phase, but not including the gold-medal game, the clubs play 10 minutes of OT. In the gold-medal game, it’s a 20-minute sudden death period, followed by the shootout. Here’s some data to chew on for Canada, as well as the goalies of all teams remaining. Who would you pick?
CANADIANS NOT IN SOCHI