Rangers-Penguins Highlights Need for Overtime Reform

The time has come. The NHL needs to adopt 3-on-3 overtime.

The New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins met Saturday night at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. It was a hectic, back and forth tilt filled with big hits, big saves, and drama between rivals. However, when the game finally came to a close in the shootout, tolerance in Rangerstown for the one-on-one skills competition hit rock bottom.

The Rangers and the Penguins entered the third period of Saturday night’s match-up tied at 2. The Penguins jumped out to the early 1-0 lead when Blake Comeau beat Henrik Lundqvist short side.

The Rangers responded in turn with two goals of their own. First it was Lee Stempniak, as he netted his fourth goal of the season, and just two minutes later it was Martin St. Louis on the power play. St. Louis beat Fleury from his wheelhouse, when Derrick Brassard fed St.Louis a perfect pass at the bottom of the right circle. The 39-year-old winger made no mistake, and put the puck in the back of the net to give the Rangers the 2-1 lead.

The Penguins knotted the game at 2 when Evgeni Malkin beat Lundqvist glove side at the 8:09 mark of the second period.

The two teams skated to a scoreless third period, and proceeded to overtime. Despite back and forth, heart pounding action at each end, both netminders stood tall, and the game headed to a shootout.

The Penguins and Rangers exchanged chances, and the shootout was tied, thanks to goals from Derek Stepan and Sidney Crosby, as it headed to the bottom of the third round. Dan Boyle was up with a chance to win it for the Rangers.

Boyle moved in on Fleury, faked, deked, and scored. The game was over, and the Rangers had won.

Or so we thought…

The Rangers celebrated, the Penguins lamented in defeat, and both teams left the ice and headed for their respective locker rooms.

Except something was off, and it soon became apparent that Dan Boyle’s shootout winning goal was under review.

Upon further review, the replay showed that Boyle made a move to get around Fleury, put the puck off the post, touched the puck a second time, after which the puck finally crossed the goal line, and went into the net.

In a truly bizarre roller coaster chain of events, both teams were called back out to the ice, and the final call was announced. It was no-goal for Boyle, and it was the Penguins turn to start round four.

Brandon Sutter was sent out for the Penguins, and he beat Lundqvist to give Pittsburgh the upper hand. The Rangers dwindling hopes of a win had suddenly fallen onto the stick of Rick Nash. He moved in, went backhand, and was stopped by the blocker of Fleury.

The Rangers, who just minutes earlier were celebrating a shootout victory, now headed to the locker room in defeat, while the Penguins, who moments prior had accepted the loss, were now basking in the glory of their victory.

How quickly the tides had turned.

But as wild and head scratching as the ending of Saturday’s game was, it shed light on the ever-pressing issue of the validity of the shootout.

While the shootout has undoubtedly provided fans with some very memorable moments, the league as a whole would be better off if they became less commonplace, and more unique, the way the penalty shot was, a long time ago in a faraway land…

In recent seasons, the shootout has come under harsh criticism due to the fact that more and more NHL games are being decided in a skills competition, rather than through actual gameplay.

Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland has led the charge for change to the NHL overtime system for years, but has never quite been able to garner enough support, that is until recently.

This season, the AHL is running more of a trial than anything else, to see what could potentially be a viable option for with regards to change to the NHL system. In the new AHL overtime system this year, overtime is a full seven minutes. Teams first play three minutes of 4-on-4, just like the NHL. Then, at the first stoppage in play following the three-minute mark of the overtime period, teams reduce the players on the ice to three. The remainder of the seven minute overtime period is played 3-on-3.

While the debate on how well 3-on-3 would work has raged on for years, many of the critics of 3-on-3 have said that having that few skaters on the ice would just lead to more conservative play. They’ve claimed that coaches will put out one forward and two defenseman, in an effort to not allow any odd-man rushes, thus resulting in a shootout anyway.

So far this season, though, the AHL has silenced those critics.

After a 2013-14 campaign in which 64.7 percent of all AHL games that went beyond regulation headed to a shootout, the adoption of a longer overtime with 3-on-3 play has cut down that number significantly.

Up to this point this season, there have been 41 AHL contests which have gone beyond regulation time, and only nine, yes, nine, or 21.9 percent, have made it all the way to the shootout. That means there has been a reduction in the number of shootouts by approximately two-thirds in comparison to last season.

Those numbers simply do not lie. That is a gargantuan reduction in the number of shootouts from last season to this season.

This year, the NHL has indeed taken baby steps in an effort to cut down on shootouts. A dry scrape of the ice now takes place after regulation, as well as a change in sides, in the hopes that the smoother ice surface and a longer change will lead to greater offensive opportunities. The number of shootouts has decreased slightly, but nothing compared to the AHL.

It is time for the NHL to adopt Ken Holland’s brain child. It is time to ensure that events such as Saturday nights in Pittsburgh do not continue to happen. The game was over, the Rangers had won the game, and both teams had headed to the locker room.

Upon further review, the correct call was made. The teams came back, all flow lost, and the outcome was reversed.

Make no mistake, it is a positive thing that the right call was made, however, it doesn’t change the fact that what transpired was nothing short of a mess.

The NHL needs less shootouts, and more games need to be decided through the actual play of hockey. It doesn’t matter what teams are playing. Hockey is hockey, and that’s what should decide the final outcome of a game. Shootouts were nice while they were still fresh and new, but they have finally gone stale, and the sport would be better off if they were to become a novelty, not an everyday occurrence. It’s time for 3-on-3.