The Detroit Red Wings haven’t seemed to be able to cure their shootout woes from last season. Already this year, Detroit has gone to three shootouts, and three times have come away with a loss.
That’s three points the Red Wings have left on the table, which would put them in second place with 22 points in the Atlantic Division as of Nov. 11, had they won those shootouts. Instead, they find themselves in fourth place with 19 points.
Obviously, it’s just 15 games into the season and placing means next to nothing at this point, but continuing to leave points on the table is going to make it that much harder to secure a playoff spot come April.
We saw it last year. The Red Wings were 5-9 in shootouts, which means they left a possible nine points on the table. Nine more points would have given them the second seed in the Atlantic Division and a matchup against Tampa Bay instead of Boston.
So why do the Red Wings, a team that features some of the best puck-handlers in the league in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, continue to struggle in shootouts?
Coach Mike Babcock generally makes the right decisions as to who is taking the shootouts. However, he has made a couple of questionable calls with his personnel. For instance, Sunday against the Lightning, Babcock opted to use Darren Helm as the final shooter.
Helm is great at a lot of things: killing penalties, winning faceoffs, being faster than everybody else on the ice. But one thing he is not good at is scoring goals on breakaways, which is essentially what the shootout is.
On Sunday, Helm pushed the puck too far in front of himself to begin his shootout, and once he caught up to it, he handcuffed himself against the big body of Ben Bishop.
Helm did score in 1 of 2 shootouts last season, but he can’t be relied upon to score that much over a larger sample size.
The Red Wings also don’t have a pure goal scorer. Zetterberg and Datsyuk are great players, but they are play makers first and shooters second. Gustav Nyquist is the closest thing they have to a goal scorer right now, and even he’s more of a two-way player like Zetterberg and Datsyuk.
Red Wings Need More Practice
When a team struggles with something in a game — whether it’s power plays, zone entries or breakouts — the next course of action is for that team to practice that aspect of the game in practice.
Jimmy Howard told MLive.com’s Ansar Khan the team “hardly did it at all last year,” in regards to practicing shootouts.
Shouldn’t the Red Wings be practicing these shootouts on a more consistent basis? I understand shootouts are a small part of the game and that practice time could be used in other areas, but this lack of shootout success could be the difference between facing the top-ranked team in their division and facing the No. 2 or No. 3 seed.
Detroit has scored just one shootout goal (Nyquist) on eight opportunities so far this season. We’re only 15 games into the season, and the Red Wings have already left three points on the table. Expand that to 82 games, and they are on pace to leave about 16 points on the table. Sixteen points is an obscene amount of points.
No other NHL team has lost as many shootouts as the Red Wings have, and Montreal has the most shootout wins so far this season with four.
Nyquist thinks it’s a comfort issue, which could be solved with more practice. He told Khan:
“Just getting comfortable with a couple moves you might want to use. If you score a couple maybe you get some confidence for games, too.
“You try to have a few different (moves). The goalies scout you a little bit. If you only have one move the goalies are going to know what you’re doing.”
Jimmy Howard’s Struggles
Howard is a fantastic goalie. He’s currently sporting a 2.03 GAA and .923 save percentage while playing behind a defense that could use some significant upgrades.
However, for whatever reason, Howard cannot sustain that same success during the shootouts. In fact, Howard has actually regressed since the 2011-12 season.
YEAR RECORD SA SV SV %
2010-11: 3-2 17 15 .882
2011-12: 7-2 27 22 .815
2013: 1-5 19 11 .579
2013-14: 3-5 26 18 .692
2014-15: 0-3 7 2 .286
The problem Howard has is he always bites on the first move. Watch as Ryan Callahan uses a leg kick and a move to the left to freeze Howard, then he quickly goes back to his right to tuck it past Howard’s outstretched leg.
These are the kinds of moves Howard falls for on a consistent basis. Obviously, it’s not his fault the team can’t score and give him goal support, but continuing to give up goals like Howard has doesn’t help your team’s chances of winning the shootout.
The Red Wings have to find ways to win shootouts on a more consistent basis. They can’t continue to leave points on the table, or they risk missing the playoffs for the first time in 24 years.
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Tom Mitsos is a Detroit Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter @tom_mitsos.