The Boston Bruins are one of the most dominant hockey teams in the NHL -during regulation. All twelve of their wins this season have come in regulation. That gives the Bruins two more 60-minute wins than the next two teams, the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders, who each have ten regulation wins under their belt. Meanwhile, Boston’s plus-17 goal differential is tied with the league-leading Washington Capitals as the best in the league.
But like the moon, there’s a dark side hidden behind an otherwise bright start. The Bruins have gone to overtime five times this season and have lost every time. Four of those games were at home and four were also shootout losses.
What is it about the shootout that makes it Boston’s boogeyman?
An Old Foe
The shootout has been the Bruins’ worst enemy this season and, unfortunately, it isn’t a new enemy. They have struggled in the shootout for years.
Last season, they won just two of five shootouts (40%). Two seasons ago, they won half of their six shootouts, and three seasons ago, it was two of five (40%). In fact, you have to go back to 2015-16 to find the last season when they finished with a shootout record above .500 (4-2, 66%).
Believe it or not, over the last eight seasons, no team has been worse than Boston’s 20.7 shooting percentage in the shootout.
It’s a puzzling problem. On paper, one would think that they would be one of the stronger shootout. After all, their stacked top line has three of the best scorers in the league.
But, of course, in-game talent doesn’t always translate to shootout success, which is exactly why the NHL implemented three-on-three overtime a few seasons ago to try to cut down the number of shootouts across the league.
David Pastrnak, is the Bruins’ leading scorer but is goalless in three shootout attempts this season. Last season, he was zero-for-three. Brad Marchand, Boston’s second-leading goal scorer, hasn’t scored in four attempts this season. Last season, he scored in one of five. Patrice Bergeron has yet to attempt the shootout this season but went zero-for-two last year.
In fact, the only Bruin to score in the shootout this season is Charlie Coyle, who’s scored in two of four attempts.
Of course, goalies play an important role in the shootout as well, although the puck-stoppers haven’t been the issue for the Bruins. Tuukka Rask has stopped eight of ten attempts this season, while Jarolsav Halak has stopped 11 of 14.
How to Solve the Shootout
The shootout problem is one that head coach Bruce Cassidy’s Bruins are aware of, and are trying to address:
“What’s happened in the shootout, right when you get in all alone, we’re more of a volume team, even though we have high-end skill, it would seem in the short sample size. It’s now growing into a larger sample size. So it’s something we’re looking at, but we’re not going to over-analyze,” said Cassidy, per Boston.com. “Every day, it’s been so much time in practice we forget about the rest of the games that I feel are more important for us down the road, but we do need to address it. We have, but maybe we need a little bit more time on that.”
On one hand, the Bruins may be inclined to sell-out in overtime to try to prevent a shootout. But that’s a dangerous game and, still, some shootouts are bound to happen.
Pastrnak admitted that the team’s shootout woes have become something of a mentality problem.
“We know it hasn’t been our strength and we haven’t been able to pull a win out of the shootouts,” Pastrnak said, per NBC Sports Boston. “It sucks obviously. Usually shootouts are 50/50, but for us right now it feels like it’s about 20/80.”
At this point, a 20/80 split would be a welcome change. But how can they improve? There isn’t a clear answer, but changes are necessary.
For starters, Cassidy’s choice of shooters in the last few shootouts is questionable. Chris Wagner, for example, got the nod twice but failed to score in both attempts.
And while we’ve already established that Boston’s top scorers haven’t been hot in the shootout, it’s time to give them more looks. Nothing is working for the Bruins in the shootout, so why not stick your most talented players out there?
Bergeron, for example, hasn’t had a look this season but has a decent 28.1% career success rate. I think it’s time to give him another go.
Pastrnak doesn’t have a great track record in the shootout, but I find it hard to believe that with more chances he’d be worse than Wagner or some of Boston’s other depth players. If nobody’s getting it done, give your stars another chance to grab hold of the reins.
The Bruins also have a few skilled young players who haven’t been tested much in the shootout yet. Why not give them a shot? Anders Bjork has never had a chance. Jake DeBrusk is two-for-eight (25%) in his career, and has a strong shoot-deke double threat. Once he’s healthy, why not? A fresher look would be a welcome change, as opposing netminders don’t have enough experience against them to predict how they might be challenged.
The good news for the Bruins is that there are no shootouts in the postseason. Despite their awful shootout record, they look well-positioned to make a strong postseason run. But, they’ll need to clean up their post-regulation act if they hope to earn a top spot in the Eastern Conference.