The overtime format debate in the NHL is raging, as the League’s general managers recently entertained ideas to minimize the shootout’s frequency (and influence) for something that better captures the essence for the previous 65 minutes of team play.
Thursday night’s games were a microcosm of that debate, on three fronts:
The best contest of the evening, by far, was that between the St. Louis Blues and the Boston Bruins, in which the inter-conference rivals engaged in a brutally tense regulation, a thrilling 4-on-4 overtime before the Blues won in an anti-climactic shootout.
You could hear the deflation in the voices of NESN’s Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley once it was clear the skills competition would determine the winner; Edwards lamented that a tie would have been preferable.
In the Colorado Avalanche’s win against the Phoenix Coyotes, we saw another spin on overtime: The 4-on-3 power play, on which the Avs scored. Some sort of dueling power plays format has been suggested as a shootout alternative; it provided the chance for Ryan O’Reilly to score the game winner.
Then, in the New Jersey Devils’ win over the Los Angeles Kings, fans got a glimpse of what Red Wings GM Ken Holland would like to see: 3-on-3 overtime. Jaromir Jagr went off for holding, Dustin Brown matched that penalty with one for diving (a questionable call), and away we went for two minutes of 3-on-3:
This offered the good and the bad of the format.
Some of it was tentative. Players know one errant blast from the top of the zone could lead to an odd-man rush the other way. So the Kings were a bit more conservative with the puck in the attacking zone.
But the beauty of 3-on-3 is that even the briefest mistake can open up the game, and around the 1-minute mark you got a sense of the excitement this format can bring - wide-open ice, long lead passes, great chances.
Finally, we got another look at the format’s benefits: Exhaustion. Jagr’s goal came after Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Willie Mitchell has skated for around 40 seconds of 3-on-3. Jagr, meanwhile, was fresh out of the box.
Again: 3-on-3 isn’t perfect, and there are certainly some aspects that make us wary. But it’s good enough to try, not only as a deterrent to the shootout’s inequitable tedium but as it’s own form of overtime entertainment.
What do you think? Should the NHL go 4-on-4 then 3-on-3 then the shootout?