The 2021-22 regular season of the National Hockey League is getting closer and closer. Preseason is going to wrap up this week for a lot of teams. The games that count are a couple of weeks away. It is anticipated that the division is going to be a tight race for this coming season. Will the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals still lead the way? Or will the returning Carolina Hurricanes boss the division like they did in the Central in the 2021 campaign (remember: they finished third in the entire NHL with 80 points last season)? Are the New York Islanders able to be legit? Will the Philadelphia Flyers rebound? How will the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, and Columbus Blue Jackets deal with it? Plenty of these questions and more will begin to be answered very soon. One thing is for sure: In this results-oriented business, the division snapshot is all about points. For this special edition of the Division Snapshot, this post will look at the recent histories of all eight teams in one of the ways points can be earned. Love them or hate them, they still count in the standings: the shootout.
Gripe about how the shootout is not real hockey or how the standings should use a 3-2-1 system to account for them. The shootout in the NHL is over 15 years old and it absolutely can make a difference in a tight divisional race. The downside is that the NHL’s tiebreakers favor regulation and regulation and overtime wins over shootout wins. The upside is that those extra points earned through a shootout can easily break a tie in points. It can help a team get a better position, stay in the playoff race, or just to give a team a victory to work from. While a lot of attention is deservedly paid attention to other aspects of the game, how a team does in the shootout does have an impact. And NHL teams know this. After all, some teams are choosing to hold shootouts after preseason games this year to get teams prepared against opposing squads instead of doing it amongst themselves. The Devils and Capitals did just that on this past Wednesday night.
To that end, this post will look at the recent history of team performances in the shootout. It will include three ranges. First, how they did last season. Makes sense as it is the most recent set of results. As last season was a 56-game, division-only scheduled season, there is a second range for a deeper history: the last three seasons. This includes last season, the 2019-20 season that was cut short, and the last full 82-game season in 2018-19. The third range goes even deeper in history: results since the 2013-14 season. That was the last full season after a lockout and better represents how the team has done historically. I’ll add in any comments ahead of this season as to who has been a stand out or not. All stats are from NHL.com.
One concluding point I will make: Just because a player or a team is great in games does not necessarily mean they are great in shootouts. You’ll see what I mean. Now, in order of last season’s point totals, here is the shootout overview for each team.
2021 Shootout Results: 4-2, 9-for-24 on shots, 18-for-25 on saves
2018 - 2021 Shootout Results: 11-4, 21-for-59 on shots, 45-for-58 on saves
2013 - 2021 Shootout Results: 26-29, 52-for-186 on shots, 128-for-184 for saves
In recent seasons, Carolina was among the league’s best shootout teams by way of winning percentage. Carolina has become one of the league’s best teams in the last couple of seasons in general. Given that they won their division last season by one point ahead of Florida and five over Tampa Bay, the extra four points earned in the shootout were more than just something nice to have. Interestingly enough, this is a recent phenomenon for the Canes. If you look back to the third and wider range since 2013, Carolina was one of poorer shootout teams in the NHL with a fairly low 28% shooting percentage as a team. Their ascendency as a whole seems to coincide with their ascendency in the shootout, though I would not assume they are correlated. It does go to show how things can change over time (take note, Devils fans?).
What led to their growth in success? The acquisition of Vincent Trocheck last season (3-for-5) helped. Andrei Svechnikov has shown to provide good value in the shootout (5-for-9 since 2018). Justin Williams also helped when he was a Cane over the last three seasons. Surprisingly, their best shootout taker was a defenseman. You may have even heard of him: Dougie Hamilton. He went 6-for-10 since 2018. Not only is his 60% success rate the best among the Canes in recent memory, no single Hurricane has scored more than 6 times in the shootout since 2013-14. I am not making that up. And only Svechnikov and someone named Chris Terry scored five times since 2013. At least Svechnikov is still here. Combined with a new set of goalies, this area of the game is more of a mystery for the Canes. I don’t think the Canes will fall apart in the shootout for 2021-22 and they should still be able to compete for the division title. Yet, they may miss Hamilton dearly if no one else steps up in these shootouts. One man cannot do it on his own.
2021 Shootout Results: 3-1, 5-for-12 on shots, 9-for-12 on saves
2018 - 2021 Shootout Results: 8-4, 13-for-42 on shots, 33-for-43 on saves
2013 - 2021 Shootout Results: 29-24, 59-for-173 on shots, 119-for-172 on saves
The Penguins have been a “class” team in the division for a while now. And their success has also shown up in the shootout. A winning record in all three ranges. A good team shooting percentage in all three windows. Solid goaltending too. Surprising to probably no one, Sidney Crosby has been the main force behind their success in scoring. He’s 17-for-46 since 2013-14, for a good shooting percentage of 37%. The goaltending has been largely good for them too. Matt Murray is a career 70%-save percentage goalie. Marc Andre-Fleury was just below 70%. Casey DeSmith was perfect last season, bumping him up to 78.6% in his short time taking draws. Tristan Jarry was far from it, but in his career he is still even at 70%. Basically, Pittsburgh has been just plain good at the shootout.
They may take a hit with Crosby out for some time to start the season. Evgeni Malkin being out does not help either, although he has been less impressive in shootouts as he is just 7-for-27 since 2013. Kris Letang (9-for-23 since 2013) and Jake Guentzel (5-for-8!!) can help carry the offense. Beyond that, uh, good luck. To be fair, with just four shootouts last season and 12 in their last three, I think the Penguins prefer the “avoid the shootout” approach to shootouts. When Crosby returns to form, they will likely still be fine with the few that they may have.
2021 Shootout Results: 3-2, 4-for-16 on shots, 13-for-16 on saves
2018 - 2021 Shootout Results: 11-6, 25-for-69 on shots, 49-for-70 on saves
2013 - 2021 Shootout Results: 35-29, 88-for-248 on shots, 163-for-246 on saves
Last season was a bit rough for the Capitals in shootout situations. They scored a combined four goals, no one Capital scored more than once, and even great shootout takers like Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie were shutout. The goaltenders did their very best to keep them viable and grind out three points from it. Historically, it’s almost unfair to see Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Oshie, and Ovechkin putting up 19, 19, 14, and 11 shootout goals since 2013. Only Ovechkin has shot below 33%, but the man has always been a volume shooter in the run of play and he will get his if given enough opportunities (and with 61 attempts, he does get them). Last season may have been an aberration.
I’m sure the Caps faithful hope for that on the shooting side. I’m also sure they are hoping Vitek Vanecek is for real as he stopped 8 out of 9 shootout shots last season. And that Ilya Samsonov keeps up his form as he stopped 5 out of 7 last season. The Capitals have continued to make the shootout a positive force for them, even with last season being a bit of a drag. As with the larger, more important game in regulation, the hope will be they are not going to decline in shootouts just yet in 2021-22.
New York Islanders
2021 Shootout Results: 4-3, 7-for-25 on shots, 18-for-24 on saves
2018 - 2021 Shootout Results: 12-11, 22-for-82 on shots, 60-for-80 on saves
2013 - 2021 Shootout Results: 38-35, 84-for-263 on shots, 179-for-258 on saves
The Islanders have eked out winning records in shootouts in all three ranges looked at for this post. In a sense, this fits with their identity of being able to get by with enough results to be respected even if other evidence suggests otherwise. OK, that is not what the Isles fans think their identity is. It is how I see it.
It was a tale of two goalies last season in shootouts. Ilya Sorokin good (14 saves out of 16), Semyon Varlamov bad (4 saves out of 8). With the shooters, it was a similar tale. Anthony Beauviller stood out (3-for-6) for good things. No one else scored multiple goals last year and Mat Barzal (1-for-5) and Jordan Eberle (1-for-7) were not contributing enough. Surprisingly, Brock Nelson only got two shots last season since he is a lifetime 7-for-19 since 2013. The Isles had some great takers in Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen in the larger window. Beauvillier and Nelson could follow suit over time. Mat Barzal could bounce back as he has been a 7-for-23 shooter since 2013. Ditto Josh Bailey, who is 7-for-25. But the Isles could use some more consistent goaltending and a third player closer to averaging a goal every three tries (Barzal and Bailey might be those guys). Otherwise, they will likely ride the knife edge again in shootouts. At least it was a net positive in all three cases.
New York Rangers
2021 Shootout Results: 1-2, 3-for-8 on shots, 5-for-9 on saves
2018 - 2021 Shootout Results: 8-9, 23-for-57 on shots, 35-for-56 on saves
2013 - 2021 Shootout Results: 25-28, 64-for-169 on shots, 106-for-171 on saves
Believe it or not, the Rangers have had the worst goaltending in shootouts since 2013. Their team save percentage of 62% is even worse than New Jersey and by a good margin too (1.3%). Henrik Lundqvist is called the King by some, but he absolutely ruled nothing in shootouts with a 62.2% save percentage since 2013. He is gone now and the replacements have been iffy. Alexandar Georgiev has been good. Igor Shesterkin was not in his first season (3 saves out of 6). It is not like Lundqvist and Shesterkin were bums; both have had some very good seasons in regulation. For whatever reason, shootouts have been an issue.
That explains why a team that has been quite good at converting shootouts has had losing records. Since 2013, the Rangers have had the third highest team shooting percentage of 37.9%. Anything above 33% is generally quite good for shootouts, so New York’s shooters were definitely getting the job done. While their larger historical window was carried by Mats Zuccarello-Aasen (19 for 38!) as well some solid contributions from Derek Stepan (5-for-11!), Kevin Shattenkirk (6-for-12!) and the tail end of Brad Richards’ career (3-for-5), the current group has had some burgeoning finishers. Artemi Panarin is 3-for-6. Kaapo Kaako is 2-for-4. The big man is Mika Zibanejad, who is 11-for-26 since 2013. With more opportunities, Panarin and Kaako may get more opportunities to try and catch up with Zibanejad. I do not doubt that the Rangers will score in shootouts. Will they get the saves to turn them into winning shootouts? Who knows.
2021 Shootout Results: 3-4, 8-for-25 on shots, 17-for-25 on saves
2018 - 2021 Shootout Results: 11-10, 23-for-81 on shots, 58-for-80 on saves
2013 - 2021 Shootout Results: 29-49, 74-for-293 on shots, 193-for-290 on saves
The shootout was not so bad for the Flyers since 2018. If you add in the seasons before 2018, then the Flyers look awful with the league’s second worst winning percentage on shootouts. Oddly enough, the goaltenders have not been problematic for Philly in shootouts. Since 2013, the goalies combined for a devilish 66.6% save percentage. That is decent. Since 2018, they have been excellent with a team save percentage of 72.5%. Philly ended up in the league median (15th) in team save percentage, perhaps the only goaltending stat where Philly was not abysmal in last season. Carter Hart was, well, not amazing at 64.7% but far from the worst (better than Shesterkin!) and Brian Elliott stopped 75% of his shots. As contentious as a Hart-Martin Jones tandem may be, the shootout may not be a catastrophe for them.
Scoring goals, well, that is a bit of a different square to circle. While Philly has been synonymous with at least a good offense over the near-last decade, the goals were not often enough. Just four players converted over 33% of their shootouts since 2013: Jordan Weal (5-for-11), Nolan Patrick (4-for-11), Wayne Simmonds (6-for-17), and Sam Gagner (2-for-6). All four are not on the team anymore and all four never got as many shots as, say, Jakub Voracek (15-for-17, also not on the team anymore), Sean Couturier (11-for-35), or Claude Giroux (18-for-69). Those three certainly have not been bad. Couturier and Giroux provided the bulk of those eight shootout goals last season. But the Flyers have lacked in having someone excel in the shootout and get the opportunities to keep exceling. Sure, Cam Atkinson joins the team, but he has been about as successful as Voracek in shootouts so it is a wash. The group of Flyers shootout takers drops in success after Giroux since 2013. Given that the Flyers have bounced back and forth with playoff spots, being able to get a few more points through the shootout would help their cause. The goalies may be game. Will the shooters?
Columbus Blue Jackets
2021 Shootout Results: 3-3, 6-for-22 on shots, 15-for-20 on saves
2018 - 2021 Shootout Results: 5-8, 15-for-52 on shots, 34-for-50 on saves
2013 - 2021 Shootout Results: 33-22, 68-for-206 on shots, 150-for-202 on saves
Columbus has historically found some good success in shootouts since 2013, however that has fallen by the wayside in recent seasons. Last season was OK. Since 2018, it has been a negative. Similar to Philadelphia, the goaltending has not been a total issue. Perhaps when Joonas Korpisalo has been in net (6 saves out of 10 last season, 8 out of 16 since 2018), but Elvis Merzlikins has been rock solid (9 saves out of 10 last season, 21 out of 29 since 2018). It remains to be seen how well the Blue Jackets goaltenders will perform in net next season, but the signs are good that it should be more than OK in the shootout.
As for the shooting, well, the Jackets have had some fine takers since 2013. But as you can figure out from the list, not many of them remain. DuBois? Gone. Panarin? Gone. Johansen? Gone. Wennberg? Gone. Even Dubinsky? Unavailable. The few that have - Gustav Nyquist, Patrik Laine - have only had a handful of opportunities anyway so it remains to be seen if they are good at this thing. Jakub Voracek may supplant what Cam Atkinson brought to the shootout table. Oliver Bjorkstrand and others may get chances to step up, but if shootout history is any indication, scoring enough goals to get some shootout wins is going to be an issue. Given that Columbus is entering a re-building phase, fewer points may not be such a bad thing. That said, going into situations where you often lose and you know you’re going to to lose is not good for morale, cohesion, or entertainment either. It could be worse, though.
New Jersey Devils
2021 Shootout Results: 0-5, 3-for-18 on shots, 9-for-18 on saves
2018 - 2021 Shootout Results: 7-15, 22-for-85 on shots, 55-for-85 on saves
2013 - 2021 Shootout Results: 22-48, 61-for-253 on shots, 160-for-249 on saves
You could be the New Jersey Devils. Many Devils fans do not like shootouts primarily because they do not win a lot of them. And they are right! They have not since 2013. I am going to take a deeper dive into this tomorrow as this is a Devils blog and this is a fascinating area of failure. Especially since it was not nearly this bad once upon a long time ago. But it is not as simple as Bad Team = Bad Shootout Team. Boston and Philly both won fewer than 40% of their shootouts since 2013 and they have been way more successful than New Jersey in that same time period. No, New Jersey’s issues warrant some further detail. That said, congratulations to the Devils for winning a shootout against an opponent for the first time since 2019-20 - even if it was in a preseason game. It is something.
Conclusions are as follows. Being able to at least not get wrecked in shootouts can help one’s cause to get points in the standings. It is not an accident that Pittsburgh, Washington, and even the Isles have generally been on the right side of them than not for so many years. While it alone will not guarantee a good season, it does not become a point of frustration like it did for Carolina up until a few seasons ago or New Jersey since 2013. Ideally, you would prefer regulation wins if only to deny your opponent any extra points. But life is not about ideals and games going beyond regulation is a thing that happens.
Interestingly, a lot of very good players within the division have not or are not amazing in shootouts. Knowing that a 33.3% shooting percentage is about median for a shooter, it is a bit jarring to see players like Barzal, Malkin, Giroux, and almost every Devil since 2013 not meet that mark. Likewise in net, where the shootout seemed to be Achilles’ heel for Henrik Lundqvist (and early returns are not good for Igor Shesterkin). While a team should prioritize many things before going down to shootout talent or results being a deciding factor as to whether they get a player, they should at least consider it. That preseason games can - and some have - shootouts after the game regardless of results points to teams understanding there is value in them. And in a division snapshot, the value is all about points in the standings and shootouts help a team gets some.
Please leave your thoughts below about shootouts, their recent and not-quite-so-recent history among the team in the division, and your guesses as to who will prevail among shootouts in the coming season. For those more interested in lamenting the Devils’ lack of success, please wait until tomorrow’s post for many more details. Thank you for reading.