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The NHL shootout: the part of the game practice and coaching can't solve

The Flyers lost their fifth shootout in five tries this season, and although veteran Vincent Lecavalier said afterward the team should practice the shootout more, that's easier said than done in reality.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The Flyers' 2-1 shootout loss to Florida Thursday marked their fifth loss in as many shootouts this season. With even one or two wins in those five games, Philly would be within sniffing distance of a wild card berth and not, as they currently are, closer in the standings to the last-place Carolina Hurricanes. And when veteran center Vincent Lecavalier was asked after the game whether the Flyers practiced the shootout enough, his answer likely didn't make beleaguered head coach Craig Berube very happy.

"Well, obviously not," said Lecavalier, who was one of the Flyers' shooters. "I mean, maybe we could do more. They're obviously very important points that you're kind of leaving on the table. We have been practicing, but we probably could do more."

Berube maintained the Flyers do practice enough, but the truth is, since it was first implemented in 2005, the shootout has been a Bermuda Triangle of expectations and logic. And the more you think about the so-called solution for a team's shootout woes, the sillier it is. I mean, players have to practice scoring more? These men are almost universally dominant scorers at lower levels of the game and who think of different ways to score constantly, so what exactly would another 20 minutes or a half-hour after practice do for them, when it's all but impossible to replicate the game conditions (including thousands of screaming fans potentially attempting to intimidate them) of an actual shootout?

Not much, if you ask me. And take a look at the NHL's shootout records this season. The best teams aren't always the best shootout teams. Sure, the Islanders are a league-best 6-0 in shootouts this year (after posting a 9-6 mark in 2013-14), but the second-best shootout team is the Buffalo Sabres (5-1). On the other side of the coin, the powerhouse Lightning, which leads all teams in regulation time wins (19), are 1-3 in shootouts this season; the similarly impressive Red Wings are even worse at shootouts (1-6) than they were last year (5-9); and the Devils, who were an embarrassing 0-13 in shootouts in '13-14 are brutal again (1-5) this year.

The Devils currently employ one of the greatest scorers in hockey history, more-than-capable snipers in Mike Cammalleri and Adam Henrique, and an elite goalie in Cory Schneider, and yet they still can't scratch out a few more shootout wins. You think they haven't been practicing the shootout more since last season? Are you telling me New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello and coach Peter DeBoer between them haven't stressed improvement in this area just a little bit? I think they have, but I also think they recognize what most NHL people realize about the game-ending mechanism.

They know that, absent the emergence of some shootout whisperer in the foreseeable future, there is no process that will lead to a better degree of shootout success. There are so many variables (e.g. whether or not an opposing goalie is hot; pucks accidentally slipping away from players as they race in to attempt to shoot) that cannot be coached or adjusted to. That's undoubtedly why coaches loathe it as they do: it's a crapshoot, and you can't practice those.

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