WILMINGTON, Mass. – Is it time to break out the rally helmets?
Remember how the Bruins turned around their shootout luck during that otherwise-dismal 2006-07 season? Urged on by center Marc Savard, all the Bruins turned their helmets around the wrong way on the bench during the shootout.
Boston finished with a 9-4 shootout record that year. So far this season, the Bruins are 0-3 – with the latest defeat coming at the hands of Phil Kessel and Toronto Saturday night.
It might be time for Savard to bring back the lucky headwear.
“It’s not that bad yet,” said Savard, who started “rally helmets” in his Atlanta days, after practice today at Ristuccia Arena.
There might be a more realistic way to solve the Bruins’ shootout problems. And it starts with using the players that historically have been most effective in the post-overtime spectacle.
The NHL shooters’ success rate this year, and in years past, is right around 33 percent. Among forwards on Boston’s current roster, only Blake Wheeler even comes close to that with six goals in 20 attempts (30 percent). Of course, it’s impossible for him to add to that goal total when he can’t get off the bench, and head coach Claude Julien (whose Bruins teams are now 20-25 all-time in shootouts) has yet to tap Wheeler on the shoulder so far this season.
“I don’t know. You’re asking the wrong guy, man,” said Wheeler when questioned about when he’s going to get his shootout turn. “I just sit there and wait until my name gets called. I don’t know.”
Julien historically uses practice shootouts as a major factor in deciding which shooters to go with. Wheeler said maybe he hasn’t been at his best in those exhibitions, but to me that’s no excuse. Practice and game situations are completely different, and if Wheeler can score at a 30-percent clip over two NHL seasons, he should at least get a chance ahead of players with lesser success percentages.
Zdeno Chara is the only Bruins player who has scored at the league average, with three goals in nine attempts. Whether he uses his bazooka slap shot or puts his reach to work to dazzle the opposing goaltender with a few dekes and twists, he’s definitely a better choice than old standbys Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, who have been using the same move over and over for years. Bergeron didn’t get off the bench in Toronto, while Krejci failed to score miserably.
That Michael Ryder hit the post – his second post in a shootout this season – Saturday was certainly a stroke of bad luck. But that doesn’t erase the fact that he is now just 4-for-25 (16 percent) in his career in shootouts. I’m quite certain he hasn’t been victimized by a bad bounce 21 times.
“I seem to hit that goal post or crossbar quite a lot,” said Ryder, now 0-for-3 this season. “And I have no idea [why]. I know had that side definitely to beat him. Maybe I hooked it a little bit. But it’s just one of those things. I’ll keep going to my strengths, I guess, and eventually they’ll go in for me.”
The Bruins can’t wait for eventually. They need to play the percentages. Other players who should be dropped down the list of candidates: Nathan Horton (0-for-1 this season, 11-for-40 career) Bergeron (0-for-2, 11-for-43) and Krejci (0-for-2, 5-for-20)
There’s definitely one given when it comes to the Bruins in the shootout: Tyler Seguin. The speedy rookie is 2-for-3. Wheeler thinks Seguin’s skills combined with his unfamiliarity to the goaltenders have combined to make the first-year pro a force. Wheeler also said he benefited from that newness in his first couple years as well.
“As long as you’re feeling confident about yourself and you’re not really thinking too much, the rest takes care of itself,” said Wheeler, who classified his confidence level in a potential shootout as high.
The best lineup for Boston’s next shootout should probably start with Seguin and continue with Wheeler and Chara. Beyond that, Horton might be worthy of a second chance. But it might be more beneficial to utilize more unfamiliarity and mix in a Johnny Boychuk or Brad Marchand to throw the opposing goaltender off, rather than let Krejci skate at the goaltender slower than a glacier and then try to stuff the puck inside the post again.
The shootout isn’t an exact science, but they keep the all-time statistics for a reason. They’re more useful in predicting future performance than what happens in an empty practice rink.
Julien would do well to put those numbers to use so the Bruins don’t squander too many more valuable points in the standings going forward.