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Penalty shots for all!

Remember that old Maurice ‘Rocket' Richard TV commercial for Grecian Formula, in which the retired Richard was the referee and a player skates up to him and says, “Hey Richard, two minutes for looking so good!”?

If they made that commercial today, the line would have to be changed to: “Hey Richard, the other team gets a penalty shot for you looking so good!”

No, it doesn't roll off the tongue as easily as the original line. It wouldn't have a chance at becoming the iconic catchphrase the original line became in the late 1970s and early '80s.

But, it would be true – at least at the rate the NHL is handing out penalty shots this season.

At the one-quarter pole of the 2005-06 campaign, there have been 30 penalty shots awarded. On 10 of those, a goal was scored.

By comparison, 18 goals were scored on 57 penalty shots in all of 2003-04. In 2002-03, nine goals were scored on 39 penalty shots. In 2001-02, 11 of 46 penalty shots were converted. In 2000-01, it was nine of 32 penalty shots. And in 1999-00, it was 16-of-40.

That's an average of 48 penalty shots per season from 1999-00 through '03-04. This year, the NHL is on pace to award about 120 penalty shots.

We should have seen it coming, though, right from the start of the season: an Oct. 8 game (the first Saturday night hockey of the year) between Phoenix and Minnesota had two penalty shots.

Penalty shot-oddities

  • Carolina's Erik Cole became the first player in NHL history to take two penalty shots in one game, against Buffalo Nov. 9. (Cole went 1-for-2 against Martin Biron.) In his next game two nights later, Cole was awarded yet another penalty shot. But he couldn't beat Florida's Roberto Luongo.
  • Florida had three penalty shots against them in the first quarter, the most by any team. (Ten others had allowed two penalty shots.) Not that it mattered. Luongo denied all three attempts. In fact, when Luongo surrendered a shootout goal Nov. 9 against the Rangers, it was the first time in his NHL career that he had been beaten in the 1-on-1 format featured in penalty shots and the shootout.
  • The sniper that beat Luongo was Rangers rookie (and Jaromir Jagr's roommate) Petr Prucha, who has scored two “game-winners” in the shootout this season. Nashville's Paul Kariya, Washington ultra-rookie Alex Ovechkin and Dallas defenseman Sergei Zubov also have two shootout “winners”. (Shootout goals do not count toward a player's statistics.)
  • Vancouver's Trevor Linden took the first penalty shot of his 17-year NHL career against Anaheim Nov. 20. With one second remaining in the second period, Linden made it count, beating Ducks goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.

    Carolina and Calgary each had taken four penalty shots to lead the NHL, as of Nov. 21. The Canes were 2-for-4; the Flames 1-for-4.
  • St. Louis rookie center Jay McClement scored his first NHL goal on a penalty shot, beating Chicago goalie Nikolai Khabibulin Oct. 11. Philadelphia rookie winger R.J. Umberger had a chance to repeat that feat Nov. 18 against Atlanta, but was denied by Thrashers fill-in goalie Michael Garnett.
  • In closingÂ…it's questionable whether all of the penalty shots awarded this season were good calls or not. Actually, no, it's not questionable. Some of the penalty shots this season definitely should not have been awarded. But given a choice between the clutch-and-grab old NHL and the high-flying new NHL with a few extra, unwarranted penalty shotsÂ…we'll take the latter, every time.

Capitalizing on the shootout

The Washington Capitals, anticipated to be one of the worst teams in the NHL this season, are a perfect 3-0 in shootout. Three other teams are 2-0 (Dallas, New York Islanders, Ottawa), and Nashville is 3-1.

Meanwhile, the defending Stanley Cup-champion Tampa Bay Lightning is 0-3. Anaheim, Boston and Colorado are 0-2.

Every team has had at least one shootout this season.

Not bad in overtime, either

The Capitals also are 3-0 in overtime this season. Combined with their shootout success (3-0), that means Washington is 6-0 in games that go beyond 60 minutes – and 2-12 when games are decided in regulation.

This week's sign that the “new NHL”/Apocalypse is upon us

Last Friday's game between Atlanta and Philadelphia featured not one, but two breakaways by defensemen. And the blueliners in question weren't exactly Paul Coffey and Bobby Orr: Philadelphia's Derian Hatcher (coming out of the penalty box, natch) and Atlanta's Greg de Vries. And not only did both defenders score on their rare breakaway opportunities, but de Vries' marker was the overtime winner.

Stats Speak

  • New Jersey winger Brian Gionta, most definitely not a giant at 5-foot-7, is the smallest player in the NHL. Whether he's even 5-foot-7 has been questioned. But there's no debating his big-play style. Gionta is tied for eighth in the NHL in goals, with 13 in 20 games. Nine of Gionta's goals have come on the power play. Only the Rangers Jaromir Jagr (11 of 20) and Ilya Kovalchuk (10 of 14) have scored more on the man advantage.
  • Toronto defenseman Bryan McCabe, with 30 points, has eight more than the No. 2 D-man, L.A.'s Lubomir Visnovsky (22). The third-leading scorer among blueliners is Philadelphia's Joni Pitkanen (21).
  • The top eight players in plus-minus rating, and 13 of the top 15, play for either Ottawa or Philadelphia. Senators winger Dany Heatley leads the way at plus-21. The two interlopers are Kings defenseman Joe Corvo (ninth place, plus-14) and Tampa winger Vaclav Prospal (tied for 11th, plus-12).

Well, if you're gonna loseÂ…

The Carolina Hurricanes are a team of extremes. The Canes recently won 11 of 12 games in a display of dominance that took them to the top of the Eastern Conference. The one loss? A 9-0 pounding, at home, to the sub-.500 Atlanta Thrashers.

More recently, injuries to top forwards Erik Cole, Rod Brind'Amour, Josef Vasicek and Eric Staal will challenge Carolina's depth – and their status as one of the East's top teams.

Final Thought

In case you're counting, Peter Forsberg has assisted on 17 of Simon Gagne's 20 goals. Only 13 other players in the NHL have 17 or more assists, period. (Forsberg leads with 30, five more than Ottawa center Jason ‘Gretz' Spezza.)


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