The Canucks lost another game in the shootout on Thursday night, losing the game 4-3 to the Detroit Red Wings. While they didn’t deserve to win the game based on their play in regulation time and overtime, the shootout is a different animal. It usually has very little to do with the run of play. They lost the shootout because Detroit is a much better shootout team than the Canucks.
The Canucks are one of the best teams in the NHL but they are one of the worst in shootouts. One would think that a team that boasts a Vezina trophy finalist and a lineup filled with offensive talent would be good in shootouts. Instead, Vancouver has a 3-5 record, are 19th in shooting percentage and are 5th worst in save percentage. And this is not a new problem for the Canucks, it has gone on a few years. They were 4-5 last season and 4-4 the year before and 3-7 the year before that. So what gives?
No Go-To Guy
The shooters that beat Roberto Luongo on Thursday night were Pavel Datsyuk and Jiri Hudler. That should come as no surprise, as these are the Red Wings’ go-to guys in the shootout. The Wings have played in 6 shootouts and Datsyuk and Hudler have shot in every single one of them. If they needed a 3rd shooter, Todd Bertuzzi would have been called upon.
The Canucks quite simply don’t have a go-to guy in the shootout. Mason Raymond and Alex Edler were given the assignment on Thursday, but they don’t shoot all the time. Alex Burrows and Cody Hodgson have shot most often, but they have only shot in 5 of their 8 shootouts.
Alain Vigneault does not stop pucks or score goals, and if he had a guy like Pavel Datsyuk in his lineup he would get questioned a whole lot less. But with that being said, Vigneault has done a poor job of giving his team the best chance of winning in the shootout.
Vigneault needs to recognize who his best shootout performers are, and stick with them. Too often he has played hunches or given opportunities to players just because they are having a good game. What he ought to be doing is identifying his top guys and turning them into shootout specialists. The Canucks’ shooters were never more consistent than when Kyle Wellwood and Pavol Demitra were trotted out in each game, despite their play in regulation time. Last year AV failed to recognize Jeff Tambellini as his best shootout option, as he didn’t select him every game despite his excellent career shooting percentage.
This year, Vigneault needs to realize that Cody Hodgson and Alex Burrows are his two best shootout specialists. Burrows and Hodgson are each 2/5 in the shootout this year and consistently put forth a great effort. A lot of fans and media have been suggesting that Vigneault give Daniel and Henrik Sedin another chance. Perhaps Daniel should get the odd opportunity (after Hodgson and Burrows), but Henrik has put forth some of the worst shootout attempts I have ever seen (including this one).
Quite simply, Roberto Luongo needs to be better. He is too good of a goalie to perform this poorly in the shootout. Luongo has a respectable career shootout save percentage at .663. Currently this year, Luongo has a .476 SV% in the shootout.
Luongo is 49th out of 57 NHL goalies in save percentage. He appears lost in the net, biting on every fake and getting beaten by any decent shooter. But it didn’t used to be this way.
In Luongo’s first season in Vancouver (2006-07), he was pretty good in the shootout. He had the 25th best shootout save percentage out of 71 goalies. Lu was even better the following two seasons (07-08, 08-09), but has seen his shootout save percentage drop in each of the last three seasons.
It appears that either Luongo’s reactions are starting to slow down with age, or shooters have a book on him.
Luongo might want to consider shifting the way he approaches the shootout. Unlike some other goalies, Luongo treats a shootout attempt the same as a breakaway. He stays reactive to the shooter and doesn’t make the first move or keep the shooter guessing. While this is probably the best way to play a breakaway, it leaves him prone to shootout attempts when players walk-in with pre-planned moves in mind. A lot of the successful shootout goalies keep the shooter guessing by utilizing the poke check or mixing up their positioning.
As I have already outlined, I believe the Canucks should identify their top shootout players, and run with them. This should be done with at least 2 of their first 3 shooters. Even though the Canucks don’t have a stud in the shootout like Pavel Datsyuk or Jonathan Toews, they can still identify a specialist or two.
Maybe above all, the Canucks need to treat the shootout seriously. That means practicing it and scouting it. The Canucks ought to be scouting goalie and shooter tendencies. It boggles my mind every time I see Alex Burrows walk-in and score with the same old move on opposing teams. I mean, if I know the move he’s going to do, how is it that NHL teams don’t?
Perhaps the Canucks already do a lot of scouting for the shootout, but it doesn’t appear so.
The good news out of all of this is that there are no shootouts in the playoffs. But the shootout can be the difference between finishing first, second or third in the conference, and that can be the difference in who hoists the Stanley Cup in June.