With the absence of players who specialize in the art of it, the 2016-2017 New York Islanders fell short in big moments in the shootout, leaving them yet another hole to fill in the upcoming season.
As much as it may pain me and hockey fans around the league, the shootout is still the NHL practice in determining games that extend beyond overtime, making it as important as any other piece of the team. In this piece in particular, the New York Islanders have been severely lacking.
Going from a 50% to a 33% success rate from 2015 to 2016, it was obvious to see that the Islanders’ shootout was suffering and why. In the summer of 2016, the team lost their specialist, Frans Nielsen.
Every Islander fan was familiar with the Great Dane’s backhand move that felt like a sure thing to begin any shootout. With very few off years, Nielsen was able to keep his successful conversion percentage in the 50% to 60% range, averaging an even 50% over his career.
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Nielsen’s absence was one of the key factors in the dramatic drop in the Islanders shootout success along with former head coach, Jack Capuano’s insistence on John Tavares being in his lineup.
It is not often that I will find fault with the Islanders captain but it seems clear that shootouts are his fatal flaw. Although his masterful goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in 2014 now lives in many-a highlight reel, Tavares’ slow approach with seemingly a hundred small moves almost never proves successful.
For whatever reason, this is where Tavares struggles. After seeing his breakaways mid-game, it seems impossible for him to produce so little in a 1v1 situation but without the added pressure of chasing defensemen and the heat of the moment, a shootout is an entirely different game; he gets too in his own head and overthinks.
With only a 27.8% success rate throughout his career, the captain became a sore spot in the Islanders’ shootout. Now, as Doug Weight takes over the role as head coach, he is given the opportunity to revamp the shootout lineup.
Although coming off one of his less successful seasons with the New York Islanders, Cal Clutterbuck has one of the most underrated wrist shots across the league and would be useful in any shootout.
With few chances to prove himself in this situation throughout his career, Clutterbuck doesn’t have the most ideal success rate. However, with more of an opportunity to harness his accurate shot, he could be part of the solution the team needs.
Now, it seems like at this point in the offseason, whenever an Islander fan sees a hole in the team’s play, their automatic fix is the rookie, Josh Ho Sang. While I’m well aware that he isn’t the next Gretzky, Ho Sang could still be part of the missing link we have been searching for.
One place he could have a specific impact on is the shootout. With only one attempt in this past season, it’s hard to judge how he would actually fair in this situation but his shot quality is undeniable. With scarce other options, it seems like a good role for him to try to fill in the upcoming season.
Although he is not a forward, Nick Leddy proves every season that he is a powerful offensive defenseman. With accuracy even from the blue line, he seems like an optimal replacement for Tavares at the end of the shootout.
With the strength in his shot of Johnny Boychuk and the accuracy of any forward’s wrister, Leddy would be a useful addition to the SO lineup, allowing for Weight to use the diversity of his forwards and defensemen.
Why It’s Important
Although the shootout is becoming less and less relevant with the inclusion of the 3-on-3 overtime and fans of all teams railing against it, as long as it remains a part of the game, it is important to maintain.
While the Islanders have faced a relatively small amount of shootouts in the past few seasons, that one point loss can be very costly. In early January of 2017, the Islanders fell to the Arizona Coyotes, arguably one of the worst if not the worst team in the NHL at the time, in a shootout. This one point may have cost the team another consecutive trip to the playoffs.
Even with the rare occurrence of the shootout, there should never be an aspect of the team lacking and this area of the New York Islanders needs help in a big way and new faces in the lineup this upcoming season could change that.