Russell Lansford/Icon SMI)
The shootout is one of the most contentious topics in the NHL. Some people like it, some people hate it. But either way, there’s no denying that the shootout will play a huge part in deciding some, if not all, of the playoff races.
Bearing the above in mind, here are the five most important shootout performers in the Northwest Division.
Semyon Varlamov, G, Colorado Avalanche – If you want a goaltender to win a shootout for you, Varlamov is your man. He’s a perfect 8-0 in the shootout this season with an astounding .917 save percentage. In fact, he’s given up just two goals in his eight shootout appearances, which puts him in the company of goalies like Tim Thomas and Jimmy Howard. What makes Varlamov’s run in the shootout this season even more remarkable is the fact that he’s always been a passable shootout goaltender but, this season, he seems to have figured out just how to lock it down in the extra, extra frame.
Matt Cullen, C, Minnesota Wild – Cullen’s success in the shootout this season has been an important key for the Wild who, really, just aren’t that good in the shootout. As tempting as it was to mention the Wild’s shootout specialist, Erik Christensen, here Cullen has had the longevity this season to back up his numbers. He’s third in the NHL in shootout goals, behind Ilya Kovalchuk and Evgeni Malkin, and first in attempts, which shows the trust that the Wild have in Cullen’s abilities. His percentage might not be as good as those he shares the top of the ranks with, but there’s no doubt that he’s the man the Wild turn to when they need a goal in the shootout.
Alex Burrows, LW, Vancouver Canucks – For all of the talent that the Canucks have, they have some of the worst shootout performances in the Northwest Divison. Thankfully, Vancouver does have Burrows, who seems to be their go-to guy in the skills competition. Burrows is five-for-nine this season, including a perfect four-for-four on the road for the Canucks. He has just one deciding goal in the shootout but, then again, the Canucks’ leader in the category is Mason Raymond, with two, so that’s hardly an indictment on Burrows. At the end of the day, he’s going to be the one the Canucks turn to for an early lead in the shootout.
Sam Gagner, C, Edmonton Oilers – Gagner is enjoying a breakout season, and part of that success has been in the shootout. He’s had just six attempts, but he’s buried four of them, including one game-deciding goal, for an Oilers team that has just four shootout wins this season. He’s a perfect three-for-three at home and is filling in nicely in the absence of shootout marvel, Linus Omark.
Milan Hejduk, RW, Colorado Avalanche – In the case of Hejduk, who is six-for-10 in the shootout this season, it’s not just the amount of goals he’s scored in the skills competition that is impressive. For Hejduk, it’s the fact that half of the goals he’s scored have decided the shootout on an Avalanche club that has been very, very good in the extra frame. In fact, if the Avalanche make the playoffs this season, the shootout heroics of Hejduk (and Varlamov, of course) will be a big reason for that playoff berth.
Northwest Division Notes
Flames rookie Sven Baertschi is making quite the impression on his teammates, with Matt Stajan summing it all up, saying, “He’s really been awesome. There’s no other way to put it.” … The Flames recalled Leland Irving from Abbotsford on Wednesday. Irving is 1-2-3 with the Flames this season with a .916 save percentage and a 3.22 goals-against average. … The Sporting News reported on Wednesday that Matt Duchene appears to be close to returning for the Avalanche, just over one week after injuring his ankle. This is terrific news for both Duchene and the Avalanche, as he was originally slated to miss at least 12 of the team’s remaining 14 games. … The Oilers recalled Teemu Hartikainen from Oklahoma City on Wednesday. Hartikainen has three goals and five points in 17 career NHL games.
You can follow us on Twitter @HockeysFuture and Blake @bcbenzel