Support growing in NHL for longer 3-on-3 OT, fewer shootouts
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Troy Terry made his name in hockey with his shootout heroics for the U.S. in the 2017 world junior championship against Russia, much like T.J. Oshie did at the Olympics a few years earlier.
Still, the Anaheim Ducks All-Star wouldn't mind seeing fewer of them decide NHL games.
A movement is growing to play more than just five minutes of 3-on-3 overtime during the regular season in the hope of cutting down on the number of shootouts. Implementing 3-on-3 already has significantly reduced how often games are decided by shootout.
Two-time NHL MVP and four-time scoring champion Connor McDavid spoke out in favor of longer overtime and it's clear he's not alone.
“The 3-on-3 overtime as a whole is great for this sport,” Terry said. “It’s fun for us. It feels more like hockey than going to the shootout."
The NHL implemented the shootout in 2005-06 coming out of a lockout that had wiped out an entire season, getting rid of ties that had been part of the league for decades. There is no consideration of going away from continuous 5-on-5 overtime in the playoffs until a game-winning goal is scored.
The shootout was intended to jazz up regular-season games but by 2015 the NHL had what it considered a problem: 13% of its regular-season games, 160 in all, went to a shootout after five minutes of 4-on-4 play did not produce a deciding goal.
After some experimentation in the American Hockey League, the league approved 3-on-3 OT and that number plummeted to 8% last season.
It's down to 6.5% so far this season — 51 of 803 games at the break, with the 3-on-3 All-Star tournament Saturday night another chance to show how effective it is — but that's still too many for a lot of folks around the sport.
“Any time you have an opportunity to decide the outcome of the game in a team atmosphere, I think it’s more indicative of the fabric of the game,” Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “The shootout, I know it’s exciting and there’s an entertainment value there, but for me it’s deciding the outcome of a baseball game with a home run derby.”
The NHL is far from alone in tinkering with how to end games in the regular season. Major League Baseball began starting each half of extra innings with a runner on second in 2020, while the NFL has cut overtime from 15 minutes to 10 and altered how games end by giving each team a chance to score a touchdown.
McDavid, who told Sportsnet in Canada that “no one wants to see the game end in a shootout,” acknowledged the potential wear and tear of more 3-on-3 play. If he and other players are willing to take that on, there's a good chance the league seriously considers extending OT.
“I think you’ll see goals scored in the last 5 minutes if you play that extra 5,” Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Seth Jones said. “(The shootout is) exciting for the fans. I understand why we do it. You work for 65 minutes and play a good game and you don’t get rewarded sometimes based on the shootout.”
St. Louis Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko said the shootout sometimes feels like a lottery. There is a certain randomness to it; Washington's Alex Ovechkin, now the NHL's No. 2 scorer, cashes in on fewer than a third of his shootout attempts.
"It’s harder than people think: goalies preparing for shooters, shooters preparing for goalies,” said Tarasenko. “I think it should be either you play until you score, or you play five (minutes) and a shootout.”
Recency bias certainly clouds the conversation for some. Jason Robertson is against longer OT after he and the Dallas Stars lost three consecutive games going into the break, while coach Bruce Cassidy is fine with shootouts because his Vegas Golden Knights have an All-Star goaltender who happens to be good at them.
Still, Cassidy said he thinks there could be some benefits to a longer 3-on-3 overtime, such as getting more players involved. And it would shed the odd feeling in the ultimate team sport of losing in a 1-on-1 competition like the shootout.
“When you lose a shootout where maybe you’ve had a lot of good things going, you feel like you’ve lost,” Cassidy said. “Any time you win in the National Hockey League — shootout, overtime, regular — you’re feeling pretty good. It’s the loss in the shootout: The pain of that is bigger than the joy of the win.”
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press