The Bruins were granted a day off today by head coach Claude Julien after winning both halves of back-to-back games, including one shootout.
That means no fine tuning of the team’s forecheck and breakouts, and also no auditions to participate in Boston’s next shootout. The Bruins typically practice shootouts once or twice a week, and Julien uses the results to help determine his shooters for the next time the Bruins are in a game that remains tied after 65 minutes of action.
Earlier this season, I suggested Julien lean more on past success rates when picking his shooters. In-game performance also influences many coaches, including Julien. Well, new statistical analysis by statistician Michael Schuckers, posted on the Empirical Sports blog, might prove that all the debating over which players should and shouldn’t be included in the shootout lineup is just a waste of energy. To sum it up, Schuckers’ research deems the shootout is a “crapshoot.”
Schucker has analyzed the results of all 5,711 shootouts in the NHL from 2005-06 through last season. What he found was that no shooter holds a success rate higher than the league average. Allow Peter Keating of ESPN The Magazine to break it down in layman’s terms (sorry, Insider account necessary to access link):
Why would a few shooters rate as below-average while none is above-average? Imagine you and I are teammates in a coin-flipping contest, and we share the delusional belief that we have the skill to cause the coin to land on heads. Now, if I throw tails a few times in a row, our coach will probably bench me quickly. But if you toss a few heads, you’ll stay in the lineup. Of course, over time, you won’t be able to do much better than 50-50, because coin flips, like shootouts, are random. So in the long run, I’ll end up below-average, you’ll be average, and nobody will rate above-average.
So while skill is still very much involved in the shootout, there isn’t enough data to determine who the best shootout performers are. Just looking at the shootout numbers of feared goal-scorers like Alexander Ovechkin (13-for-47) and Marian Gaborik (2-for-18) hammers home the point that shootouts are as random as could be. No one is trading either of the aforementioned stars for Jussi Jokinen, who is the all-time shootout goals leader in the NHL.
Basically, the shootout is a ridiculously inexact science. It probably has no business being used to determine a pro sporting event, but I digress. In terms of picking the shooters, coaches and fans can weigh all the elements, but really the best route to go is just to play the hot hand and maybe mix in a different look now and then. If the Bruins start with a speedster like Tyler Seguin, following up with a change-of-pace player like David Krejci and then a slap shot from Zdeno Chara could put the odds more in Boston’s favor.
Or maybe the Bruins and other teams should just flip a coin to pick their shooters. It could lead to a similar success rate.