August 08 2014 01:08AM
HOT TAKE TIME! I love the shootout. I don't know if I love that it decides things in the standings, but the core concept of it? Love it. I love the pressure it puts on the goalies to make the right decisions. I love that the skaters have to think about their move, and then meet their own demands. I like that it removes so many variables, and boils things down to one shot and a potential goal.
How could you not love it? Right, the standings. Because the shootout is a crapshoot. A few irregular coin-flips, and a team can be knocked out our brought into the playoffs. But, in a fit of curiosity, I took a look at every shootout the Leafs were involved in last year, to see what I could get out of it.
Keeping It Simple
The "derp, whatever" thing to take out of this: the Leafs were putting the puck in the net more often than the other team. Their goalies stopped more pucks. Their shots were in the direction of the net more often, but a couple of pucks were lost in the process of some moves, something that didn't happen to their opponents.
Their five goal advantage, fuelled by the second best shooting percentage, lead to a shootout record of 9-4. Only two teams won 10 games, and the Leafs were one off of that, despite having the second fewest shootouts played of any team in the top 10, and taking the eighth fewest shots.
On the whole, the Leafs were able to assert their dominance throughout the season, but that doesn't mean that things didn't begin to get close at points. Here's their culmative shooting percentage as the (shootout) season progressed.
At a point, they equal the opposition, but never let them take over. When you think about it, this one isn't a situation that can be blamed on the Leafs shooters, who never dip below 37.5% on the season. The goaltending was the reason for the two sides squaring up at 41.67%, and you have to think that this had a lot to do with it:
That's seven goals allowed in eleven shots, including Jonathan Bernier giving up six in a row. The one against Crosby was probably the silliest any goaltender looked in a Leafs game this season.
The below shows how many goals were scored in the ten previous attempts. That end streak for Toronto really earned them some serious points. If only the post-Olympic break didn't exist...
I was curious as to where all these shots were going, though, and where exactly they were the most effective. So I sorted them by location.
How about that high glove? I've always believed it to be the hardest place to stop a puck for a goaltender. Positioning your glove requires a more precise motion than flailing your blocker in the right direction. I don't know if that's a non-dominant hand thing, but it's a thing.
Meanwhile, every kid ever leans to shoot high corner. We have shooter tutors to score on, shooting accuracy competitions to re-enact (we had a mock one at Five Hole For Food Victoria, I went 4 for 4, and I'm still bragging about it), and a need to be like Gunnar Stahl in D2: The Mighty Ducks. It's also easier than trying to get through defenseman's legs, and a butterfly goalie's pads. I'd wager that anybody who can be considere good at hockey, even in Beer League terms, can hit a corner over 75% of the time.
The Leafs did it 100%. Likely a fluke, but they did it. Meanwhile, the Toronto's opponents tried to hit high glove on a quarter of their attempts, and got about half of those. Personally, I blame James Reimer. BUT WAIT!
Whoa. It's a really small sample, but while Jonathan Bernier got absolutely shelled at high glove, Reimer was able to stop all four. While getting all these numbers together, I was talking goalies with a goalie. They brought up that Reimer's "high glove" flaw is in the actual placement of it in his stance, which got me to wondering whether he's actually allowing more of them than usual, or if it's just a case of more players shooting there.
With just under half of his shootout attempts being pointed at the top glove hand (four of the first six), it's not a stretch to imagine that Reimer is aware of his reputation and uses it to his advantage in the shootout. If you know where they're going to go, giving space to make it seem a bit more appetizing could be an effective strategy. Or, this is just a coincidence.
Beyond that, it's hard to compare the two. Reimer didn't face more than two shots in any other area of the net, while Bernier was peppered across the "U" that is usually available in the shootout. The end result is that Reimer was one of the league's best shootout goalies this year, while Bernier was lacking, particularly in an area where his backup is usually the one criticized.
Lots of teams appeared to favour mid blocker, often from left handed shooters going for the post-deke forehand shot. The Leafs are pretty guilty of this too, but appear to like nothing better than going five hole.
Speaking of things that happen a lot, do any players lean on any specific tendencies?
My first thought was to look at the shooters that faced the Leafs multiple times. Truthfully, there weren't many, but Pavel Datsyuk, Matt Moulson, Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson all got two cracks at it.
The results? Michalek goes high glove on both goalies, but using two different approaches, even going so far as to backhand on Bernier and shoot forehand on Reimer. Spezza opts for the shot on both goalies, but picks different heights - going bottom-glove on Bernier and high glove on Reimer. Moulson goes blocker on both goalies, but is fancier on his attempt with Bernier.
Datsyuk and Alfredsson both get to shoot on Bernier twice, which I'd guess is the true test of repetition. Alfredsson roofs a snapper high glove on him the first time, but goes for the backhand to low blocker on his second attempt and misses.
Datsyuk, on the other hand, goes backhand-shelf on Bernier's glove twice. You'd think that the man with the best hands in the league would make a drastic shift in his approach, but he clearly knew better.
As for the Leafs, Carlyle relied heavily on four shooters in particular. Nazem Kadri was the only one of the seven-man rotation to get just one chance at scoring. That's a really weird thought, when you consider his natural ability, but I guess getting stopped by Cam Talbot was all the coaching staff needed to see.
Even still, David Clarkson shot twice! One of those times he shot first! To make matters worse, he scored on neither attempt, and he tried the same move on both attempts; he skated in from the right side, dragged the puck across, went to the backhand, and tried to slide it low blocker. Both times, straight into the pad. Phil Kessel was also a surprise at just three attempts, though with two pad saves and a stick malfunction, maybe that was for the best.
Tyler Bozak was money for the team this year, going three for five. Was there a method to his madness? It didn't look like it. Two of his attempts matched (a bit of stickhandling, a stutter, and a tuck into the five hole), but the other three took different forms altogether.
Next, you have Mason Raymond. His spin-o-rama, the first attempt by the Leafs of the season, was also probably their nicest. He tried used that to his advantage, going wide on all but one of his attempts (which still saw him veer to the left side a bit). This gave the goalies the thought that he may attempt it again, though he never did. Interestingly enough, this really only really worked on Craig Anderson, the goalie who he spun out to begin with. He went 2 for 7 on the year, scoring both against Ottawa.
If I had to pick a shootout MVP for this season, it would have to be James van Riemsdyk. The coaching staff certainly agreed, sending him in 10 of 13 times. While he didn't stay as red-hot as he was to begin the the season (scoring on his first four attempts )he found a way to score six of them. He may have been able to push it to 7 or 8 if he didn't pull the "skate in at average speed, lazily go backhand to forehand" move out twice, which I assume was a tribute to Nikolai Kulemin, who aggravated many when he continued to use the move while past its expiry in previous years.
JVR went glove side on four of his attempts, five hole on three, and blocker on three. He went as high as going backhand shelf (twice), and as low as attempting the Forsberg move at the Winter Classic. He didn't do anything crazy, but he wasn't predictable. He faced Corey Schneider twice and tried two separate shot locations (mid blocker and high glove, both going in), and split with Ryan Miller, getting stopped on a backhand but beating him five hole.
My most valuable move? I have to give that to Joffrey Lupul. He went an astonishing six for seven on the year, and five of those goals came off of the same move. Lupul likes to come into the offensive zone with a bit of speed, and then stutter with the puck. It's almost a fake shot, almost a jump-drag a la Steve Yzerman or Alexander Ovechkin, but it throws the goalie off just enough that he can usually find the back of the net.
Just once did it not work; Lupul didn't appear to get all of the puck and hit the goal post. I feel like goaltenders are going to be keeping themselves on notice for this one, but it would be really nice if Lupul discovered hockey's "Balotelli move", a goal that always creates a goaltender reaction to make a save impossible. I'm not holding my breath, though. Nor is he, it seems - the second time he faced Ryan Miller, he went for the drag to backhand. The only other time he didn't do this shot was at the Winter Classic, though I imagine ice conditions come into play.
How To Improve?
It's hard to say. Logic would imply that that the way to go in the shootout these days is to fake early and often, and try to go top glove as often as possible. For goalies, exaggerate your scouting report weaknesses and be ready for an attempt. It's not bad to use the same move multiple times, but certainly not recommended to do it twice to the same goalie.
But of course, I'm making these guesses based off of a 36 shot sample, trying to improve the team's odds at an infrequent event that appears to be a coin toss. The better strategy? Keep the team out of the shootout. Score the goals sooner. Don't put your team's standings life in the hands of a non-game situation.
Still a blast to watch, though. I need to teach myself the Lupul move for Ball Hockey.