This past season, the Devils relied heavily on the shootout. They used the controversial tie breaker sixteen times and finished the season with a 12-4 record. A major reason the Devils saw so much success there was because of the skill and ability to keep cool under pressure of Ilya Kovalchuk. He scored on the shootout eleven times out of fourteen tries and was responsible for the game deciding goal with seven of those points. Before the 2011-2012 season, Kovalchuk was not known for his shootout credentials. In 2010-2011, he scored just twice on five tries - I'm sure we would all like to forget about this mishandle against the Sabres that sad year.
What did Kovalchuk do to improve his shootout attempts to drastically in one year? Although his goals had as much to do with his speed and incredible stick-handling, Kovalchuk credited much of his shootout success last year to some tips and advice that goalie Martin Brodeur provided him. After the jump, I'm going to look at each of Kovalchuk's fourteen shootout attempts from last season. What does he do similarly in each attempt? When does he have the most success? What did Brodeur tell him to make him so much better at this skill competition? Keep reading to find out.
Competing in the shootout fourteen times and finishing the season with eleven goals is a pretty impressive feat. On top of that, in each of the shootouts Kovalchuk appeared in, he took the first shot, setting the tone for the rest of the event. That is a lot of pressure to put on one man, and Kovalchuk handled it with ease this season. In recent years, his numbers were not so stellar, and he attributed a lot of his success to advice from Brodeur. According to Kovalchuk,
"He told me a couple secrets about the goalie and what angle i should take to get more options and it's working, for sure..."
Brodeur's response was,
"You have to have a plan going in. You can't ad-lib all your life. He has to have a little plan. I just kind of helped him out. I want him to skate towards the goalie. That was it. And he's doing real well."
Whatever the goalie told him, it worked. Below are screenshots from each shootout attempt with links to the video.
The first shootout of the season occurred on October 13, 2011 against the Los Angeles Kings. Kovalchuk was the first shooter. He moved in and went with a quick fake and a backhander over the pad of Jonathan Quick to score. The Devils ended up winning the game with another goal from Parise and Hedberg blocking both of the kings attempted shots.
Devils vs. Predators - 10/15/11:
On October 15, 2011 the second shootout of the season happened in Nashville against the Predators. Again, Kovalchuk was up first and went with a different plan than just two nights before. He froze Pekka Rinne from afar and flipped a shot over the goalie to score. The Devils won their second of two shootouts like the last, with another goal from Parise and Hedberg keeping both of the Predators' shot attempts clear.
October 21, 2011 was the first shootout loss of the season against the San Jose Sharks. This was not to the fault of Kovalchuk, though. Ilya scored with a backhand shot over Niemi's pads - similar to the first shootout goal against Quick. Both Parise and Elias missed their attempts after the first goal.
Devils vs. Blue Jackets - 11/23/11:
Just over a month after the first shootout loss, the Devils faced the Columbus Blue Jackets and the game went to the shootout once again. Kovalchuk scored once again, but this time he went with a different weapon. With Sanford leaving his five hole wide open, Kovalchuk had to take the bait - and it was worth it. After Kovy, Parise also scored while Brodeur blanked both Blue Jacket attempts leading the Devils to a 3-1 shootout record on the season, thus far.
Devils vs. Senators - 12/8/11:
December 8, 2011 was the first shootout miss of the season for Kovalchuk. It is worth noting that this was the first and only time Kovy skated down the right side of the ice before shooting during the one-on-one competition. Every other time, Ilya picked up speed down the left side. He took a shot from afar and missed. It seemed as though he didn't take Brodeur's advice in this case and didn't plan out what he was going to do from the start and follow through. The rest of the team picked up for Kovalchuk, though. The shootout went to four rounds with the game winner going to Henrique, snatching two points for the Devils.
Devils vs. Panthers - 12/13/11:
The Devils wanted to get revenge on coach Peter DeBoer's old team after the Panther's come from behind victory in November. The game went to the shootout and Kovalchuk was up first, as usual. He scored on Theodore's high blocker side to set the Devils up for another win. Brodeur stopped both shot attempts and Elias added a goal to Kovalchuk's sealing up the two points.
Devils vs. Capitals - 12/23/11:
For his shootout attempt against the Capitals on December, 23, 2011, Kovalchuk didn't go with one of his fancier moves, but he got the job done. He moved in quickly on went five hole on Neuvirth from far away. After Kovalchuk's goal, Brodeur made two saves, including a beauty on Ovechkin and Elias sealed the win on the third shot.
In the end of January, the Devils were heading into the All Star break with a final game against the Sabres. Although the team lost in the shootout, Kovalchuk scored on his attempt. He moved in quickly, but when he saw that Miller was going to challenge him he slowed down and waited for the goalie to go down. He then shot high over his left glove for the first goal of the competition.
In the January 31, 2012 match against the Devils' hated rival, the Rangers, Clarkson scored a goal with under a minute left to tie the game. After the extra time, Kovalchuk scored on the shootout with a quick release through Biron's five hole. Kovalchuk scored the only goal of the shootout ensuring a big Devils win.
In Kovalchuk's tenth shootout appearance of the season, he did not get the job done. After moving in quickly, Elliott poke checked the puck off of his stick. The Devils ended up losing the game.
The shootout goal scored by Kovalchuk against the Anaheim Ducks on February 17, 2012 was not as pretty as some of his others. He went five hole, like he has many times in the past, but this one barely squeaks through Hiller's legs. Still, a goal is a goal and the Devils went on to win the game
Devils vs. Avalanche - 3/15/12:
This was one of my favorite shootout goals from Kovalchuk this season - so much so, I needed two pictures to show it off. In this game against the Avalanche, both goalies kept everything out of the net going into the shootout. Kovalchuk was up first and as you can hear in the description, Chico raves about Kovy's two big moves - five hole and high glove. In this case, he completely freezes Giguère and crosses over to shoot over his glove. This shot is the perfect example of Brodeur's advice to plan your moves ahead. The Devils went on to win the game with a second point from Parise and Brodeur blocking both attempts from Colorado.
Devils vs. Maple Leafs - 3/23/12:
In this shootout, although the Devils didn't take the two points, Kovalchuk scored on his shot attempt. He moved in quickly and released the puck right past Reimer's glove hand. The top corner of the net was his, and he took it.
Devils vs. Blackhawks - 3/27/12
In his final shootout attempt of the season, Kovalchuk couldn't come through. He tried to freeze goalie Crawford, but he didn't buy it. Although Ilya didn't get the goal, the rest of the team came through with the win.
It is obvious from the examples above how good Kovalchuk is in the shootout. He has so many different weapons he can use, and that makes him very difficult to stop. Chico explained it quite well during the shootout against the Leafs on March 23, 2012:
"It's hard to guess where he's going to go, right? He can go high glove, he can go five hole, he can fake it, toe drag it to his forehand and go high blocker"
Kovalchuk often went with one of the above methods, but what really helped him was the advice given from Brodeur - prepare. Before each shootout, Kovalchuk would take a second before beginning his attempt, most likely to plan his attack. With each shot, he would go down the ice the same way, and then execute - scoring all but three times. In fact, the only similar aspect of each attempt was his pre-shot routine - leaning over with his stick resting on his knees, focusing, and skating down the left side of the ice. Since he can go with so many different methods, it is difficult for goalies to guess what he will do, and if he can freeze them and make his move, the puck usually finds it's way to the back of the net. In such a high pressure situation, preparation and focus can make or break execution, and this season Kovalchuk did just about everything the right way.
Although the shootout is not everyone's favorite way break a tie, it is impossible not to enjoy watching them with a player like Kovalchuk on your team. Which shootout from last season was the most exciting to you? Do you think it was the advice from Brodeur that suddenly made Kovalchuk a success story in the competition? Is there anyone else you would rather have taking the first shot in a shootout?