You’ve doubtless heard of peak oil and peak food, it’s to wonder whether the NHL is closing in on peak shootout.
It’s dangerous to bet against the limits of human ingenuity, creativity and desperation – it turns out there’s plenty of oil and food left – but it’s still a worthwhile question to ask whether the possibilities in the shootout are close to being exhausted.
Ottawa Senators forward Kaspars Daugavins became the latest to nudge up against the boundary of what is possible on Monday night when he used the toe of his inverted stick to control the puck – his attempted spin-o-rama deke was stopped by Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask’s outstretched foot.
Shootout moves are a frequent topic of conversation in NHL dressing rooms, and splashy ones like Daugavins’s – which he has used before in the minors, and which Washington’s Alex Ovechkin used in a skills competition at the 2009 all-star game – attract notice.
The prevalent view among players surveyed was Daugavins is to be commended for trying.
“I thought it was pretty cool. Obviously it didn’t work, but just the fact he could do that, I tried it on the ice today and I struggled with it,” said Montreal rookie Brendan Gallagher, whose Canadiens face Ottawa on Wednesday at the Bell Centre.
“You never want to show up your opponent, but that’s obviously a move he felt he was going to score with … it’s a skill play and you have to show off your skill set.”
Winnipeg Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian agreed: “People pay money to see exciting things … it’s cool to see a guy try that. It takes a lot of guts to go out in front of 20,000 people and try that. I wouldn’t do it.”
That Daugavins would attempt the move says something about his confidence in it – and Ottawa coach Paul MacLean made it plain on Tuesday he won’t hesitate to throw the 24-year-old Latvian back out in the same situation (“The shootout is a skills competition, is it not?” he said).
Fans in Ottawa certainly appreciated the effort to spice up the shootout, which, let’s be frank, typically involves minor variations on the same theme.
“There’s only so many things you can do out there,” said Gallagher, who is 0-for-1 in the shootout this season.
Better goaltending, advances in video technology – more and more teams have tablet computers on the bench with highlights of a goalie’s tendencies – and a rule change last year to exclude shootout wins as a tie-breaker in the standings have created an incentive to play the percentages.
“For me it’s not about being creative, it’s to know what the goalie’s tendencies are and how to read them … my view is you want to get a win, you want to get the points,” said Habs captain Brian Gionta, who has missed both his shootout attempts this year, but is 20 for 54 in his career.
Dunks in the NBA have become more and more audacious since the advent of the slam-dunk contest in the 1980s, might hockey be seeing something similar for shootout moves since the skills competition was launched?
According to Gionta, not likely.
“In the NBA,” he correctly noted, “they don’t have goalies.”
To this point in the season, 36.9 per cent of all shootout attempts have found the net – players like New York Islanders forward Frans Nielsen, who has a ridiculous 60.5 per cent career success rate, are rare.
So every once in a while, someone tries something unusual, even it ends up being, as Jets coach Claude Noel called Daugavins’s attempt in a losing effort, “limiting”.
If the traditionalists were irked by Daugavins’s flash of inspiration – there is an argument to made the move is illegal because he stopped skating – they weren’t making a lot of noise about it.
Commentator Don Cherry, as fusty an exemplar of the old school as there is, took to Twitter to say people should lay off Daugavins.
“I don’t blame the kid at all. Let’s face it, the shootout is a gimmick anyway. Fans loved it, and besides, it worked for him in the AHL,” Cherry wrote.
It certainly did.
Habs forward Gabriel Dumont was sitting on the bench for the Hamilton Bulldogs in an exhibition game in Newfoundland in the fall of 2010 when Daugavins, then with the Binghamton Senators, pulled it out during a shootout – and scored.
“We were all like ‘He’s not really going to do that is he? What just happened?’” Dumont said. “If you pull it off you’re a hero, but if you don’t you can look like pretty stupid.”
Former Pittsburgh Penguins forward and occasional defenceman Phil Bourque memorably used the same technique on a long breakaway in a regular season game against the Detroit Red Wings in 1990.
Goalie Tim Cheveldae made the stop; Bourque told reporters after the game that coach Bob Johnson was less than impressed: “He told me file it.”
The man standing behind the Detroit bench that night? Bryan Murray, now the Senators’ general manager.
The hockey planet is an exceedingly small one.
The idea of using one’s stick in the Daugavins fashion has been around far longer than just the nineties.
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said Tuesday he also tinkered with the move in his playing days, “I did that years ago. We didn’t have shootouts, we did that in practice.”