Robin Alam/Icon SMI)
If four points can be on the line in a three-hour game, three points are at stake in a matter of minutes in every single shootout. This season, the Pacific Division has seen its first and fourth positions separated by as few as three points on a regular basis, with three clubs currently within a single point of one another. Needless to say, success in the shootout could be make or break as teams head into the stretch of the season where shootouts will fade from view entirely—the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Kari Lehtonen, G, Dallas Stars – For his career, Lehtonen is 30-18 in shootouts, giving him the most wins of any Western Conference goalie. This season, he has gone 6-3 overall with a very strong .833 save percentage on the road. Of late, he has anchored the Stars’ effort in shootouts and earned them critical points in the standings as they have gone from fourth to first in the Pacific. After a tough go against Pittsburgh, he was flawless against Calgary and again against San Jose in a pivotal victory. Lehtonen challenges high, drifts back and then suffocates the shooter as the play gets in tight. By the time he goes down into the butterfly, shooters are often left with no option but to stuff the puck harmlessly against his pads and skate back to the bench shaking their heads.
Jarret Stoll, C/W, Los Angeles Kings – While Stoll’s numbers this season have not been overwhelming, he had the greatest single shootout campaign in NHL history last year. Stoll was 9/10 with four game-deciding goals, including a perfect five-for-five at home with three game-winners. Stoll’s lethal wrist shot is a paradoxical complement to his hard, often inaccurate slap shot that he flexes during the course of play. He is not much for the deke, in fact his shootout attempts are surprisingly uniform. He charges up to the puck, glides in, picks up a bit of speed and then sizes up a wrist shot. He likes a little drag move or a couple quick stickhandles as he drifts left for a better angle and then roofs the puck to the goalie’s glove side. He goes near side above or under the blocker on rare occasions, as his quick release and sharp reads are his best assets.
Jonathan Quick, G, Los Angeles Kings – Quick and Stoll propelled the Kings into the postseason last year with their excellence in shootouts. The Kings were 10-2 in shootouts last year, and they waited until game No. 80 to clinch a playoff spot. Quick makes himself big in net and makes full use of his freakish flexibility. He will typically skate out high, giving the appearance of an aggressive challenge. From that point, his movements are subtle and tempered. Perhaps his greatest asset is his ability to read the speed of the shooter and seemingly back up in lock step with the incoming skater. It takes the patience of a saint and a borderline illegal stop to successfully wait out Quick, who possesses the total package for a shootout goalie.
Michal Handzus, C, San Jose Sharks – While Pavelski’s surgical hands and Clowe’s patented move get attention in San Jose, no one has been more effective than Handzus, who has converted over 48% of his career attempts. Handzus has only one move, shoot, and only one speed, cruising. As in every aspect of his game, Handzus’s hockey sense, intelligence and deceptively deft hands work in his favor. He waits to read the goalie and uses his below average speed to his advantage, getting a strong read on any little tip the goalie might offer. Handzus sizes up the goalie and fires a wrist shot just about every time out, but it works. Last season, he was second on the Kings to Stoll, going 4-for-9, which is the same total he has posted this year to lead San Jose in shootout goals. Moreover, five of his eight goals have been game-deciding goals in the past two seasons. Clowe has also been clutch for San Jose – 10 of his 14 career shootout goals decided outcomes.
Radim Vrbata, RW, Phoenix Coyotes – While Jamie Benn is four-of-seven this season and the career exploits of Anaheim’s offensive stars like Teemu Selanne and Corey Perry deserve recognition, no one in the Pacific has been more productive in the shootout in his career than Vrbata. His 28 career goals are just two behind Pavel Datsyuk for the all-time lead and his 10 game-deciding goals are three fewer than the career leaders, Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel. Vrbata has precise hands and no shortage of options in the shootout, but more often than not, he breaks out his trademark deke-to-the-backhand move. He will drift wide to his right, handle the puck on his forehand and swiftly transition to a hard backhand shot to the left side of the net, usually high above the goalie’s stick. No matter how many times goalies see it on film, it works in games, as Vrbata has connected on nearly 44% of his attempts.
Robin Alam/Icon SMI)
Pacific Division Notes
Dallas’s ten-game point streak came to an abrupt close in Winnipeg. The sluggish Stars fell behind the Jets 5-0 before Loui Eriksson padded his totals with two goals. Dallas moved to 1-10-2 in the second half of back-to-backs … Jonas Hiller and Anaheim blanked the reeling Red Wings 4-0 behind two goals from rookie Kyle Palmieri and goal No. 660/point No.1400 for the ageless Teemu Selanne … The Phoenix Coyotes got a critical 5-4 win at Vancouver. Ray Whitney and deadline acquisition Antoine Vermette each had three points … The Kings inked Yale University forward Brian O’Neill to a one-year, entry-level contract. O’Neill has led Yale in scoring in each of the past three seasons, this year posting 46 points in 35 games.