"Hey guys, the Canucks are awful at shootouts.
I've watched them a bunch this season and it just seems that way, and since every second game has gone to a shootout lately, the Canucks really need to practice it because they're just bleeding points right now in the race."
That wasn't actually what John Garrett wrote in his Canucks.com column yesterday, but it may as well have been. Garrett isn't particularly known for his restraint. He'll defend the goalie, talk about cheese, complain about his horrible travel schedule, and, if we're really unlucky, discuss hockey.
I didn't know that my favourite analyst had a Canucks.com column, but there you go. I guess I can't let the day pass without fisking his 366-word analysis first:
Teams have kept themselves in contention by gaining the extra point after 65 minutes. The Colorado Avalanche are 7-1 in the competition and are only three points out of eighth. New Jersey is a surprise sixth in the East largely due to their 9-2 record in the shootouts. The Canucks, with their shootout win in Denver, are 4-5.
The Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils have earned an extra three points each by being "excellent" and not merely "average" at this shootout business. Meanwhile, teams with sub-.500 shootout records include the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings. The Minnesota Wild and Florida Panthers, while probably not going to make the playoffs at this point, are also quite bad at this.
It's just one of those things that don't really matter. So few points are lost by being "excellent" and not merely "average" at the shootout. Being good or bad at the powerplay is something completely different. If the Devils scored more than once every three weeks with the man advantage, they wouldn't need all those shootout wins to be competitive.
Unfortunately the goaltenders take most of the heat. They are a big part but only half of the equation. You have to have shooters who feel confident going one-on-one and who feel a competitive desire to be the goal scorer. Most teams look on the shootout as a form of entertainment for the fans. The game is over and they are in all-star game practice mode.
What's more important than feeling "a competitive desire to be the goal scorer" is the ability to score goals. Which the Canucks mostly have. For all their faults shooting this season, at 30.4%, the Canucks are 16th in the league in shootout conversion rate, while the goaltending is 23rd. They are also 4-5, not 0-9 or 1-8, which would be a number to really worry about.
I think it would be beneficial if you could create an internal competition. Make it mean something within the team.
Please don't. Can we please focus on things that matter?
The Canucks could divide themselves into shooting groups. Showdown drills could have some sort of incentive so the winners were rewarded. It could be no skating at the end of practice, anything just keep it competitive. Players love to have that winning feeling and to be part of the same group day after day. Coaches decide who is going to participate in the shootout and it is rarely if ever the same three guys. Put the players in groups and then if you win the shootout you take the next one with the same three guys.
What would be more useful is to have everybody take about 30 shots, with the coaching staff taking note of which players scored the most after 50 shots. Then, the field is narrowed to six guys that Alain Vigneault, who take shots in each successive practice. This would allow the coaching staff to a logical choice in determining which shootouts to use, if you assume that every single goalie in the league would attack like Roberto Luongo, or if you feel the need to waste practice time on stupid drills rather than watching video or doing something useful.
Here are my first five groups. Group one would be easy. Henrik, Daniel and Alex Edler could represent Team Sweden. It would put a little more pressure on them to succeed and maintain their national pride. David Booth, Chris Higgins and Ryan Kesler could represent the US. Alex Burrows, Max Lapierre and throw in Jannik Hansen, they could represent the French contingent (Hansen qualifies as being able to understand the other two). Cody Hodgson and Manny Malhotra are from Toronto and they could pick up Mason Raymond. I would only have one group from the defencemen as Edler is already participating. The three highest point producing D men would be the next team. Bieksa, Salo and Hamhuis.
Jannik Hansen on Team French Canada! Mason Raymond on Team Toronto! Pride is on the line!
But wait! Does Luongo subconsciously play better for Hansen as a fellow French Canadian? Will Cory Schneider only suit up for Team USA? What if somebody comes in at the trade deadline?
It could work. It should work and it would work.
It would also be objectively pointless. Regulation and overtime wins are what count more on the standings, and deviating any practice time away from things that actually matter into stupid shootout games, despite pride being on the line, is completely idiotic. This particularly at a time when the team cannot win a scoring chance or possession battle to save their lives.
Even with a wealth of shootouts lately, the Canucks aren't doing half bad on them. In fact, they've won 2 of 3, and have an equal amount of successes (goals and goalie saves) as they do misses (goals against and opponent saves). The shootout is a friggin' coin flip. It's so arbitrary, and it's something you don't think about if you only have a shootout every three weeks like the Founding Fathers intended.
There are a lot of things to worry about the way the Canucks have played lately. The shootout is not one of those things.