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Saving Those Shootout Points

As we enter the third season of the "new NHL", the importance of the shootout is only finally being appreciated. Last year, a shootout victory by the New York Islanders on the last day of the season knocked the Toronto Maple Leafs out of the playoffs, whereas Tampa Bay's 10-2 record in the shootout made the difference in getting them into the postseason. The average team plays in ten or eleven such contests each year, and those points can make or break a coach's job; John Tortorella comes to mind, after he guaranteed a postseason berth for the Lightning when it was by no means a sure thing.
So what can two years of shootout data tell us about what to look for this season? Let's start off with something I noted last winter, but bears repeating up front for emphasis. It appears that there is a lefty/righty matchup advantage that coaches should keep in mind when selecting which players they want participating in the shootout. Much like baseball managers fill out their lineup or select pinch-hitters based on whether the pitcher is left- or right-handed, we have a situation in the NHL where matching the shooter's handedness with the goalie's catching glove hand can improve the shooter's chances. Here's a look at accumulated shooting percentages from the 2005-6 and 2006-7 regular season shootout totals, broken down by the shooter vs. goalie handedness:
Goalie L Goalie R
Shooter L 36.0% 24.8%
Shooter R 29.7% 36.4%
Difference 6.3% 11.6%
For left-handed catching goalies (which are by far the majority), the difference isn't as significant as it is with the righties. The most prominent right-handed catching goalies are Rick DiPietro of the Islanders and Tomas Vokoun of the Florida Panthers. Coincidentally, I've got both on my fantasy hockey team.
So who are the top performing goaltenders over the past two years? Taking a minimum of twenty shots faced yields the following...
Goaltender Goals Shots Save Pct.
Johan Holmqvist, TAM 4 33 0.879
Marc Denis, TAM 6 38 0.842
Henrik Lundqvist, NYR 18 83 0.783
Tim Thomas, BOS 17 77 0.779
Ryan Miller, BUF 14 63 0.778
Marty Turco, DAL 17 71 0.761
Chris Mason, NSH 6 25 0.760
Pascal LeClaire, CBJ 8 33 0.758
Rick DiPietro, NYI 21 85 0.753
Curtis Joseph, PHX 8 32 0.750
And on the bottom end...
Goaltender Goals Shots Save Pct.
Evgeni Nabokov, SJS 12 23 0.478
Peter Budaj, COL 20 41 0.512
Sean Burke, LAK 16 33 0.515
Curtis Sanford, VAN 15 31 0.516
Cristobal Huet, MTL 11 23 0.522
Niklas Backstrom, MIN 15 32 0.531
Alex Auld, PHX 13 30 0.567
Mikka Kiprusoff, CGY 19 45 0.578
Ray Emery, OTT 10 24 0.583
Ed Belfour, FLA 17 41 0.585
Oh, and Toronto fans, you might be interested to know that Andrew Raycroft was just barely off this bottom ten list at 0.588, so improving on last year's 4-7 shootout record might be a challenge. And your new guy, Toskala? I'm afraid he's allowed eight goals on fifteen shootout attempts (0.467), so there's not much hope there either. Best of luck with your guarantee, Mr. Maurice...
I'll check back in a couple days with a look at the scorer's end of the shootout scenario. Until then, let's get ready for the regular season opener on Saturday in Jolly Old England, shall we?

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