Warren Wimmer/Icon SMI)
There are those who despise the shootout because of the notion that it is basically a skills competition used to decide the winner of a hard fought game that couldn’t decide a winner in regulation or overtime. There can however be no denying that it is an extremely intense and exciting event that showcases the incredible skills of some of the best players in the world, and their ability to perform those skills under pressure.
Here are the top five Central division players that you want to have on your side in a vital late season shootout.
Pavel Datsyuk, C, Detroit Red Wings – With what Datsyuk can bring in terms of offense and two-way play, there isn’t a situation in which you wouldn’t want to have him on the ice. The shootout is certainly no different and Datsyuk is arguably the one guy that any coach would pick to shoot in the one-on-one skill contest with the game on the line. The all-time NHL leader with 30 career shootout goals, Datsyuk has scored four times in eight attempts this year, upping his career percentage to 48.4%. With a dazzling array of moves, his “Datsyukian dekes” are often attempted to be emulated by players around the league, something Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux was able to mirror last weekend against Toronto.
Patrick Kane, RW, Chicago Blackhawks – Possessing some of the softest and quickest hands in the league, Kane is becoming one of deadlier shootout artists in the NHL. Like his persona on and off the ice, the 23-year-old is as cool as they come when skating in on the goaltender and likes to show off his magical hands before either roofing the puck up top or fooling the goalie with an off-speed shot through the legs. Kane is four out of seven in the shootout this season and his goal earlier in the year against Minnesota is one that will be shown on the highlight reel for years to come.
Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago Blackhawks – Toews has had the reputation as a shootout master ever since he was a member of Canada’s National Junior team. In the NHL, he has been equally as clutch and ranks as one of the top shootout performers since its inception. With 22 goals on 44 shots (11th all-time), Toews’ career percentage of an even 50% puts him in a tie for third all-time among shooters with at least 30 shot attempts. With a modest three goals on seven shots this year, Toews often goes with a much different approach than his teammate Kane. Whereas Kane goes in looking to deke, Toews comes in with his head up and looks for a hole that is being uncovered or a side that the goalie is favoring. He then uses his quick release and accuracy to snap it past the goalie, usually in the lower portion of the net and usually with deadly precision.
Jimmy Howard, G, Detroit Red Wings – While Pavel Datsyuk is always the main attraction in any shootout that the Detroit Red Wings are in, the team wouldn’t end up being victorious if not for their goaltender. Jimmy Howard doesn’t have the flashiest of career records (13-10) in the shootout but does have his numbers on the rise due to his phenomenal play this year. The 27-year-old is 5-1 this season and has allowed goals on just three of the 22 shooters he has faced. Howard’s dominant play in shootouts this year has boosted his career save percentage to .756%, a total that is good enough for fifth all-time among goalies with a minimum of 90 saves.
Pekka Rinne, G, Nashville Predators – Just because you are considered to be one of the best goaltenders in the world does not automatically mean you will be successful in shootouts. Luckily for the Nashville Predators, their star netminder has proven to be as good in shootouts as he is in the actual game. Sporting a career 21-13 record and a .762 save percentage (fourth all-time), Rinne’s towering 6’5 frame makes him a very imposing figure for any shooter to have to stare down. Although he is just 4-4 in “extra fun” this year, this can be attributed mostly to the fact that Nashville’s shooters continue to be among the worst in the league and own the third worst shooting percentage of all-time at 20.8%.
Central Division Notes
Columbus Blue Jackets – Since their season high four-game win streak was snapped on the weekend, Columbus has gone on to drop three straight games. In a battle of the NHL’s two worst teams, the Edmonton Oilers skated away with a 3-0 shutout win on home ice last night.
Detroit Red Wings – Make it seven losses in the last eight road games for Detroit who continue to be unable to find success away from the Joe Louis Arena. In what was one of their worst efforts of the season, the Red Wings could not muster anything in the way of offense in the 4-0 loss to the 12th place Anaheim Ducks. Just two points ahead of Nashville with two more games played, the club is in danger of letting their road woes cost them home-ice advantage in the potential first round playoff match-up with the Predators.
Nashville Predators – Defenseman Kevin Klein was a full participant at practice Wednesday and is a good bet to play tonight against San Jose, while fellow rearguard Roman Josi also hopes to be back in the lineup for upcoming games. In their absence, Ryan Ellis and Jack Hillen have stepped in and played well, showing the club’s excellent depth on the blueline.
St. Louis Blues – Since his return, Andy McDonald has been the hottest Blues scorer and is now riding a six-game point streak (4 goals, 5 assists). After Tuesday’s shootout loss to Chicago snapped a five-game winning streak, McDonald and his team-mates will look to get back in the win column tonight when they pay a visit to Raleigh to take on the Carolina Hurricanes.