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(Abelimages/2011 Getty Images)
(Abelimages/2011 Getty Images)

Wilson plays the numbers in shootout Add to ...

You can say this much for Ron Wilson: He knows his numbers.

And when the Toronto Maple Leafs were headed to a shootout against the Florida Panthers tonight, he pulled out some rather obscure statistics on netminder Scott Clemmensen to help him determine just who would shoot.

Kris Versteeg. Tyler Bozak. Colby Armstrong.

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Not the most obvious choices given they're fifth, sixth and seventh on the team in goal scoring and none have much of a history of scoring in the shootout.

But all three are right-handed shots, and that was by design, as Wilson noted Clemmensen had had a far tougher time stopping righties than lefties in his previous 14 shootouts. The gambit ended up paying off, too, as both Bozak and Armstrong scored, giving Toronto a much needed 4-3 win.

So much for coaches not preparing for what many have called a coin flip.

"If you study the statistics, Clemmensen doesn't have as good a save percentage against righties," Wilson said after the game. "The next [shooter]would have been Phil [Kessel]and possibly even Joey Crabb, so we're going righties until we're either winning or losing tonight.

"If [Panthers No. 1 Tomas]Vokoun's in, he has trouble with lefties. He saves 90 per cent of the righties and lefties score like 60 per cent of the time on him. So I think if you don't know those numbers [you should]and if you have them available, use them."

It was a good example of some of the somewhat obscure statistics Wilson likes to rely on, something not often talked about when it comes to the Leafs coach. He's a number cruncher possibly more than any other NHL bench boss and that often impacts who he decides to play in certain situations.

Bozak and Armstrong, for instance, have been getting more and more penalty killing time of late because so few goals have been scored against the Leafs when they're out there down 5-on-4. Others, like Freddy Sjostrom, haven't been nearly as good in that department, and their minutes while shorthanded are significantly down.

Bozak and Armstrong, meanwhile, are becoming go-to guys in the shootout, even though Armstrong is playing with two beat up hands. He broke the tip of his finger in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning last week and is playing through some significant discomfort due to the injury.

Earlier this year, Armstrong missed more than a month after a tendon in his hand became detached during a game.

"I'm not going to be hand model any more," he joked after the game. "Or a piano player."

"He's been successful so far in shootouts this year," Wilson said of Armstrong, who had scored on his only previous attempt this year. (Bozak is now 3-for-3.)

"He cracked the tip of his finger in a couple of places and is just managing the pain. I haven't even asked if he's shooting it up [with a pain killer]to get through the next couple weeks. But they've got it pretty much padded now. He's got a broken finger, but he went in and made that unbelievable move so I don't think it's hurting him at all to be honest with you."

Armstrong chuckled when asked how he managed to play so well despite his hands, which aren't something he's known for even at the best of times.

"It felt pretty good tonight, but I've got two mangled hands right now," he said. "It's not too good. It didn't feel that good this morning, pretty sore, but we tinkered with some braces and some different padding and stuff like that for my glove and it felt all right tonight.

"It's great that [Wilson]has confidence in me and I'm glad I could score. It's going good."

Teammate Clarke MacArthur said he was surprised Armstrong pulled the move off despite his injury.

"He said he was going to do that on the bench before and I was like 'yeah okay Army, you're not,'" MacArthur said. "And then he burned him, so it was nice."

 

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