When Will the Flyers Figure Out the Shootout?

Whether you love it or hate it, the shootout has become an important fixture for deciding regular season games in the NHL since its addition before the 2005-06 campaign.  Some teams have managed to thrive on it, while others are left hoping to just score a goal in the five-minute overtime and not be forced to worry about it.

The Philadelphia Flyers are one of the teams that often hope for the latter, and last night’s 4-3 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils showed how the shootout could give the Flyers the same headaches it has given the team for years.

Since the league decided to nix the tie and add the shootout, the Flyers have had the least amount of wins of any team in the NHL in the skills competition.  In 54 shootouts all-time, the Flyers have gone 19-35, which is two less wins than the next closest team, the Ottawa Senators.  With the way this season has begun, it appears the Flyers’ shootout woes are not going to go away anytime in the near future.

The orange and black’s first shootout of the season was less than impressive.  Philadelphia let two leads slip away on Thursday night, which forced the Flyers to try to put the Devils away during the five minute overtime.   As time began to slowly tick off the clock, it was easy to see the emphasis by the hometown fans to score a goal and try to avoid the shootout – knowing how bad the team has been in the past.

Such was not the case.

To be effective in the shootout, a coach must use the right combination of skill and strategy if he wants to find success.  Matchups are often the key, along with past shootout history and hot streaks.  Coach Peter Laviolette decided to ignore all of these reasons when he sent out Wayne Simmonds as the first shooter and it was tough to figure out exactly why.  Simmonds was 2 for 5 in his career heading into last night’s attempt.  With little experience, there were plenty of more viable options for Laviolette to choose, including Jaromir Jagr who has long made a living with his breakaway skills.  Simmonds would miss the shot and ultimately put the Flyers in a quick hole.

Patrik Elias would ultimately put the dagger in the Flyers’ heart – something he’s been doing for years – and gave the Devils the big road win.  New Jersey saved its best shooter for last, which proved to be a smart decision.  In his career, Elias has a 36.8 shot percentage in the shootout and is an impressive 14 for 38 on the breakaways.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why the Flyers have been so bad in the shootout.  The team has often had the talent on the offensive side of the puck though it has lacked the elite goaltender to put the extra session on his back.  It seems to have just had a snowball effect mentally and the opposition knows how bad the Flyers have been historically and feed off that information.

It wasn’t that long ago when the Flyers’ shootout problem seemed to be handled, as Philadelphia earned a playoff berth thanks to a shootout victory against the New York Rangers on the last game of the season two years ago.  It eventually propelled the team to come up just two games short of a Stanley Cup victory.  But that was a different team and at least half of those players have been moved and the Flyers are even on their third starting goaltender since that Finals appearance.

It’s certainly not an issue that Laviolette and the Flyers need to lose sleep over because once the playoffs come around the shootout disappears in favor of sudden death overtime, but the points they are losing with their shootout struggles could certainly hinder their chances of getting a good playoff seed.