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Toronto Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak skates with the puck during the shootout against the New Jersey Devils at Air Canada Centre. (USA TODAY Sports)

Toronto Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak skates with the puck during the shootout against the New Jersey Devils at Air Canada Centre.

(USA TODAY Sports)

Mirtle: Maple Leafs emerge as masters of the shootout Add to ...

Where oh where would the Toronto Maple Leafs be without the shootout?

Lower in the standings, no doubt, some will argue. But higher in previous years, too, you can certainly make the case.

This is Year 9 of the shootout in the NHL, and no season has been as heavily influenced by the skills competition for the Leafs. Wednesday’s win over Buffalo was Toronto’s ninth shootout win, which not only leads the league but is easily a franchise record, shattering the previous high of six.

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There are 33 more games and who knows how many more shootouts to go to improve on that number.

A lot of what’s going on this season in the extra session for many NHL teams looks like utter randomness. Prior to this year, for example, only about 12 per cent of Leafs games had gone to a shootout; this season, that’s up to 27 per cent.

Toronto’s historical record in the tiebreaker was 29-45 in the last eight seasons; this year, they’re 9-4, thanks entirely to the fact they’ve scored on 49 per cent of their 35 attempts.

(The league average, by the way, is about 33 per cent.)

Since there are no shootouts in the postseason and the whole process is often derided, even by GMs and coaches, there are naturally going to be debates about what this all means, other than the fact it’s helped the Leafs make their record look far better than it might have otherwise.

If even five of those nine shootout wins were losses, they’d be tied with Columbus in points and in 12th in the Eastern Conference. If instead of shootouts all games were still ties as per the pre-2005 rules, the Leafs record would be 15-20-14, putting them on on pace for 73.6 points and 13th in the East.

Instead, they’re on course for almost 89 points and currently in the first wild-card spot.

So shootouts matter, whether some like them or not.

The Leafs were barraged with shootout-related questions after Wednesday’s win, and you don’t get the sense they’re all that enamoured with the idea that this is now how they’ll need to continue winning games.

“I think if our team had a choice, we’d try to end the game a bit earlier,” rookie Morgan Rielly offered.

“I guess yeah we’re confident with it,” added James van Riemsdyk, who is tied for second in the NHL with six shootout goals this season.

Leafs coach Randy Carlyle has made no bones about the fact he’s no shootout fan and has even handed off the critical duty of picking the shooters to assistant coach Greg Cronin.

Carlyle said that the staff tries to divorce the shootout result from what happens in regulation and overtime, preferring to think of them as two different games – with the 65 minute portion obviously consuming way, way more of their thought process than the gimmicky three shots aside afterward.

“When you win them, it’s a positive,” Carlyle said matter-of-factly after his team’s latest 3-for-3 showing against the Sabres. “When you lose them, it’s a negative.

“I don’t think you can ever get into those situations and feel comfortable. Obviously, we’re fortunate this year that our record in a shootout is a real strong positive for our club. It’s earned us I don’t know how many extra points, but there’s been a lot of extra points gained by it. If we can continue to find a way to get points, that’s what our job is.”

The real question is can the Leafs continue to rack up points this way?

They’re on pace for 15 shootout wins, which would match the record Edmonton set in 2007-08, but more importantly, they’re on pace to appear in 22 of the darn things, which would break the record of 20 set by a couple of teams.

The Leafs aren’t exactly a lock-it-down defensive squad, so the fact so many games are ending in a draw doesn’t appear to be a trend that will play out over the long term. Given the average team has appeared in only 11 per 82 games, it’s unlikely Toronto gets to double that by the end of the year, and even more unlikely still the Leafs could continue to score on half their attempts.

(Only three teams have ever done so on 13-plus attempts in a season.)

For now, however, the shootouts have been a big-time positive in their season, and a sign that, contrary to what MLSE president Tim Leiweke suggested earlier this week, the hockey gods are certainly with the Leafs.

An odd thing to say, that.

 

NHL teams all-time shootout records

  
 

Team

TOT

W

L

W%

SH%

SV%

1

PITTSBURGH

88

58

30

66%

37%

0.747

2

COLORADO

80

50

30

63%

38%

0.709

3

DALLAS

96

56

40

58%

34%

0.723

4

NY ISLANDERS

90

52

38

58%

37%

0.683

5

NY RANGERS

99

57

42

58%

31%

0.733

6

NEW JERSEY

99

56

43

57%

38%

0.680

7

BUFFALO

100

56

44

56%

36%

0.689

8

LOS ANGELES

98

54

44

55%

36%

0.664

9

WINNIPEG

88

48

40

55%

35%

0.695

10

SAN JOSE

97

52

45

54%

34%

0.688

11

PHOENIX

96

50

46

52%

34%

0.675

12

MINNESOTA

100

52

48

52%

37%

0.632

13

EDMONTON

97

50

47

52%

33%

0.679

14

TAMPA BAY

78

40

38

51%

27%

0.723

15

NASHVILLE

84

42

42

50%

32%

0.687

16

BOSTON

95

47

48

49%

30%

0.693

17

CHICAGO

102

49

53

48%

33%

0.657

18

MONTREAL

87

41

46

47%

29%

0.679

19

ST LOUIS

92

43

49

47%

36%

0.646

20

WASHINGTON

89

41

48

46%

31%

0.662

21

ANAHEIM

93

42

51

45%

31%

0.662

22

DETROIT

87

39

48

45%

32%

0.670

23

COLUMBUS

92

41

51

45%

31%

0.670

24

VANCOUVER

93

41

52

44%

30%

0.642

25

TORONTO

87

38

49

44%

33%

0.607

26

CAROLINA

60

25

35

42%

31%

0.613

27

OTTAWA

76

30

46

39%

32%

0.620

28

CALGARY

74

29

45

39%

31%

0.602

29

FLORIDA

100

39

61

39%

26%

0.649

30

PHILADELPHIA

73

27

46

37%

30%

0.579

 

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