Against the popular perception, I'll admit .. I love shootouts.
Not for the definitive end to games that eliminates the 'kissing your sister' effect of tie games. The shootout is an added tool to get a good clean look at the player in their rawest skillset on an individual basis.
This isn't going to be a debate on the merits/drawbacks of the shootout. An in-depth look at why shootouts were implemented and the trend of increasing overtime games while shootouts trend downward can be found here .
It's easy to be anti-shootout, purist or not, with the argument of individual performance overshadowing the team concept of the games natural state. It's even easier to be one thing sets apart winners from losers.
A negative outlook.
Winners are those that understand shootouts are here to stay and take advantage of the skills display. Tune out the background chatter and negative squawking about effects and how shootouts don't belong.
The very best piece of advice I ever received when I started scouting was to focus on the positives, not player's negative traits. Stop thinking that player 'A' "can't play defense, leaves the zone early or misses first step acceleration" etc.
Focus on the positive; quick release, dynamic change of pace skating, with exceptional vision … etc.
I've incorporated that mentality to shootouts blocking out all those negative voices and using the visual to enhance my understanding of player's skills. It's subtle, but it's there.
Especially when more obscure players are used like during this (Click here).
The first two players used in the shootout were Matt Hendricks for Washington while the Lightning countered with Nate Thompson.
One would figure teams would use their best, most skilled players in shootout attempts, but due to the hierarchy of the game itself, the skill level of fourth line players is often overlooked.
Strategically, using a more obscure player gives the advantage of surprise, not knowing their particular tendencies and preferences, unless the opposition is watching at practice.
We're going to enhance your shootout viewing experience with some things to look for while others thumb noses with scorn at the skills competition.
The Four "S's"
It all comes back to the four 'S's' of scouting, Speed, Skating, Smarts, Skills. Each of these is on display with each attempt, to varying degrees.
First, watch the player's hands. Does the player show some quickness while skating in on the attempt? Does the player use two handsstickhandling in, or just one, 'pushing' the puck along like Vancouver's Christopher Higgins, instead of stickhandling? In close, are they quick enough to get a shot off in a very short distance? These are all game-ready skills, adaptable in game situations.
Watching how effective the player's hand movements are from the beginning to the end gives you an indication of how they would rush the puck, or if there's more to their one-on-one driving a defender, and in some instances will put a stamp on whether a player is a bigger shooter or playmaker.
Skating is obviously on display from the moment of puck retrieval at center. Watch a player's feet, watch their crossovers and whether they accelerate through to the net or just take a few strides and coast through. Does the player use a stride all the way through or do they stop at some point and have to plant in order to create their scoring opportunity. Players that can make moves and more important make a shot while in stride should open your eyes. They can do that in game situations as well.
Skills on display are fairly obvious; however there are small things you can focus on. For instance, does the player have a shot preference? Wrist shot? Backhander? Does he back to the same shot type over and over? Does the player prefer to use a deke? Do they force the goalie to open a hole or just skate in and aim for an opening for a well placed shot? Do they use jukes and fakes and if so, how well are they masked? Do they watch the goalie skating in and drop their head to shoot or are they still looking heads up?
Predictability is a death knell for shootout skaters. To be successful, the shooter has to be able to switch it up and use various moves and styles to get off a good enough attempt for a goal. If a player keeps doing the same thing over and over, it shows signs of limited imagination. This, too, will come into play during games. It's important.
Smarts may be the one item that would be more difficult to gauge, however there are glimpses of that as well. One is to be able to adapt to the situation if for some reason the angle changes or the puck jumps or is lost, how well do they recover. Mostly, hockey smarts are on display during games with positioning and finding open space, but decisions are made in split seconds during attempts and players have to be able to adapt.
It's fairly easy to see statistically that Carolina Hurricanes workhorse Eric Staal is struggling with only two points in the last nine games (9-1-1-2) after a three-point effort in the second game of the season. His shootout attempt against the Ottawa Senators on October 25, 2011 showed just how deep his frustration lies within.
Instead of driving the net and forcing the goaltender to commit before unleashing a potent wrist shot, he approached with less speed and even the shot seemed tentative, from a distance out. It was almost as if he was trying to ensure he got a good shot off, well placed relying on basic shooting skills instead of controlling the situation and winning the mental battle of forcing the goalie to commit.
The end result showed a player with less confidence just trying to get back to basic fundamentals instead of generating bravado and transferring it from the head to his hands and feet.
There will be many around you that will keep up the negative chatter regarding shootouts. For me, I love them. You may hate them, too. That's fine; it's ok to have a strong opinion on this post-lockout implementation.
But don't lose sight of what positives can be taken out of a negative situation. While the chatter is going on, let the loser's voice their displeasure. You know better. You know to turn that negative into a positive.