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Are the Senators playing for the shootout? Numbers say they aren't

Ken Campbell
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James Neal on Craig Anderson (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

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Are the Senators playing for the shootout? Numbers say they aren't

Ken Campbell
By:

Someone clearly forgot to send the Ottawa Senators the memo about shootouts this season. The whole idea for having 3-on-3 overtime was to reduce the number of shootouts, but with four of them in the books, the Senators have already seen all their overtime games and almost half their games overall go to shootouts. In fact, nine games have gone to shootouts this season and the Senators have been involved in four of them.

So that begs the question: Are the Senators playing for the shootout? Well, it certainly looked that way Wednesday night when they played the Calgary Flames and hit the net only once. Of course, the Calgary Flames, aside from one spectacular opportunity that was thwarted by Craig Anderson, didn’t look terribly engaged in 3-on-3 play, either.

The Senators do have some excellent shootout performers, Bobby Ryan and Mika Zibanejad in particular, but there’s no real evidence they’re hanging on during overtime and waiting for the skills competition to begin. And if they are, they’re only giving themselves a 50-50 chance of winning the game anyway, since they’ve won two and lost two shootouts.

According to waronice.com, the Senators are actually generating their share of opportunities in 3-on-3 play. In overtime, the Senators have been outshot by a 14-8 margin overall, but that was skewed by a 7-2 result against the Toronto Maple Leafs in which they had to kill a minor penalty. The Senators have also been shorthanded in overtime on two other occasions, once for 39 seconds and another for 13 seconds.

But when it comes to pure 3-on-3, the Senators have not been that bad. They’ve generated a total of 17 shot attempts and had 12 against them in 17:08 of 3-on-3 time in overtime. Compare that to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have also played four overtime games, but have played only 8:10 of 3-on-3. They’ve got 10 shot attempts and have given up nine. The Philadelphia Flyers have played 11:22 of 3-on-3 OT in four games and have generated 14 shot attempts, while giving up the same number. The New Jersey Devils have 14 for and against in 13:37, while the Vancouver Canucks have 12 for and nine against in 9:39.

As for the league-wide results, they’ve been pretty encouraging. Of the 136 games played so far, 27 have gone to extra time and of those 27, 18 of them have been decided without a shootout. That’s 67 percent, compared to 44.4 percent of games that were decided in 4-on-4 overtime last season. Three of those games have been decided on power-play goals with the teams playing 4-on3. The average length of an overtime period this season, meanwhile, is 3:01.

The reduction in shootouts is a good sign, but will it continue? Will coaches find a way to stifle 3-on-3 play the way they have in other situations? Well, as teams get more accustomed to playing 3-on-3, there are bound to be adjustments. One of them that teams are already making is feathering the puck down to their own goaltender when they have possession in the neutral zone so they can get a change and get fresh bodies out on the ice.

As it stands, two of three games are being decided in overtime, compared to fewer than half in the past. Not since the shootout was introduced in 2005-06 has there been a season when more than 50 percent of the games have been decided by overtime alone, so even if there is an adjustment and that number goes down a little, it will still be an improvement.

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Are the Senators playing for the shootout? Numbers say they aren't