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Shootouts entertain but distort hockey

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said everyone he spoke to after Thursday's 3-2 victory over the Islanders had only one thing on their minds: the 13-round shootout Tampa Bay won 5-4.

"Even as a coach, you couldn't help but be a fan of the one we were just in," Cooper said Saturday. "It's edge-of-your-seat stuff. If it gets people talking about your game, then there is something good about it."

On the other hand, is deciding games and awarding an extra point in the standings through a skills competition — Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman called it "a lottery" — really the best way to do business?

As Cooper said, "There's a reason (shootouts) are not in the playoffs, because ultimately that's not how the game should be decided."

"It's not really hockey," Tampa Bay center Tyler Johnson said. "It's not really what it's about. How often do you have a one-on-(zero) with as much time as you really need? It never happens. I don't know why it should determine an extra point (in the standings)."

It does give fans a definitive outcome. TV likes that, too, so the shootout is here to stay.

But since the rule was adopted for the 2005-06 season, 57 percent of overtime games have gone to shootouts, according to the league, and that is too much for general managers who spent time at this month's meetings figuring ways to end games before they get to a shootout.

GMs discussed extending the five-minute, four-on-four overtime or splitting overtime into two four-minute segments, one four-on-four, the other three-on-three.

Neither proposal got traction. So GMs instead recommended dry scraping the ice before overtime to give players a better surface on which to make plays.

They also proposed having teams change ends after regulation play. That would put benches closer to each team's offensive zones and also force defensemen to skate a longer distance to change. That is how it is in the second period of games, which, the New York Times reported, has produced the most goals this season: 1,870 through Thursday, compared with 1,529 in the first period and 1,643 in the third, not including empty-netters.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos agrees shootouts should be a last resort in deciding games.

"The fans do love it, so I'm not going to sit here and say I hate it. … But for the most part, it's an individual thing, and hockey is a team sport," he said.

The Lightning's shootout with the Islanders was a record-breaker. Tampa Bay's five goals and the nine combined were the most ever in a shootout. Thirteen rounds tied for second most, behind the 15 the Rangers and Capitals endured in November 2005.

But, as Hedman said, "at that point, it comes down to a skill game instead of a hockey game."

And you have to consider what general manager Steve Yzerman said he has wondered many times:

"What's wrong with a tie?"

Shootouts entertain but distort hockey 03/29/14 [Last modified: Saturday, March 29, 2014 8:07pm]
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