Mark Goldman/Icon SMI)
Searching for a reason that the Florida Panthers haven’t pulled away from the rest of the Southeast Division? Look no further than the shootout. The Panthers hold a one-point lead over Washington in the race for a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference, but are tied for the NHL lead with eight shootout losses compared to just four wins.
Luckily for the Panthers, the entire division has struggled this season to take advantage of the tie-breaking skills competition adopted coming out of the lockout. Carolina is the only team yet to win in a shootout this season, dropping all six of their attempts at gaining the extra point in the standings. The Lightning and Capitals each stand at 2-3, with one struggling to stop attempts (Washington, 29th in the league with a .533 save percentage in the shootout) while the other can’t seem to score (Tampa Bay’s league-worst 14.3 conversion rate, with both their shootout goals this season coming from the recently traded Dominic Moore). The Jets are the only team to come away even, winning four of their eight shootouts to help keep them in the playoff hunt.
Despite all of the teams’ struggles, there are still players in the Southeast who make their mark when it comes time to decide a game one-on-one.
Mathieu Garon, G, Tampa Bay Lightning — Garon is currently injured with a torn groin, but when healthy he’s historically been one of the NHL’s top shootout stoppers. The Lightning rank last in the NHL in shootout scoring percentage this season, but Garon has held his own when in net for them. He has stopped all but one shot in six attempts this year, registering a 1-1 record, and over his career has a 20-11 record and .752 save percentage in the shootout. That stop rate ranks sixth among goalies who have 20 or more shootout results in their career, and his 20 wins are tied for 17th all time.
Matt Hendricks, LW, Washington Capitals — With all the talent on Washington’s roster, it’s hard to believe Hendricks has made as big an impact in the shootout as any player on the Capitals. But for the second straight year, Hendricks leads the team in conversion percentage. Hendricks has converted two of three attempts this season, both providing the Capitals with the game-winning goal. He’s had the most success with a leg fake-and-deke combination that freezes the goalie and allows him to then make a move.
Jussi Jokinen, LW/C, Carolina Hurricanes — Jokinen has converted a pedestrian two of five shootout attempts this season, but he’s definitely considered one of the game’s best when it comes to the post-overtime competition. He earned a name for himself as a rookie with the Stars in 2005-06 by scoring on nine consecutive attempts, a mark that still stands as the NHL record. With his Peter Forsberg-esque postage stamp move well known after its success that season, Jokinen has had to mix it up in recent years. But he still uses the threat of that past success to help him now, and his 30 career shootout conversions is tied with Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk for the most in NHL history.
Alexander Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals — Only four players have made more shootout attempts than Ovechkin. The Capitals captain has 20 goals in 62 career attempts, a 32.3 percent scoring percentage that hovers right around the league’s average since the shootout’s inception. But after making six of 13 attempts in 2005-06, he struggled in the shootout for several seasons before regaining form last year with four goals on 10 tries. This year, Ovechkin is three for five and, coupled with Hendricks, gives Washington the chance to win whenever they face a shootout.
Blake Wheeler, RW, Winnipeg Jets — Wheeler has consistently been a reliable shootout specialist, and this season has been no different. Most players are reluctant to stick handle too much during the shootout because of poor ice, but Wheeler often relies on it, going forehand to backhand several times and then tucking it past the opposing netminder at the last second. That being said, he will sometimes come with speed to try and disarm the goalie with one quick move. He is four of six on the season and 13 of 31 in his career, a 41.9 percent conversion rate that ranks among the league’s best.
Southeast Division Notes
Winnipeg Jets – After four days off, the Jets get to resume their chase for a playoff spot at home after back-to-back road losses. The Dallas Stars became the latest MTS Centre victim, falling 5-2 to the Jets, who moved to 22-10-4 on home ice. The win moved the Jets to 33-29-8, good for 74 points and 10th in the Eastern Conference. The Sabres, who sit ninth, lost in the shootout to Colorado but remained a point up on Winnipeg, while Washington sits in eighth with 78 points. Florida sits atop the Southeast with 79 points and holds a game in hand on both the Jets and Capitals.
Tampa Bay Lightning – The Lightning signed 2011 first-round pick Vladislav Namestnikov to a three-year, entry-level contract Wednesday. The Russian forward spent the past two years with the OHL’s London Knights, finishing second in scoring both seasons and piling up 138 points in 128 games with the team. Namestnikov and the Knights will be either the first or second seed in the OHL’s Western Conference playoffs, depending on the results of their final three games. They currently trail the Plymouth Whalers by two points for first.