Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard living in shootout hell
Detroit — Crapshooter, or goalie?
In regulation and overtime, goalies for sure.
In the shootout? Keep the dice warm.
The longer it goes on — Jimmy Howard's cold streak in the skills competition that decides 12 to 15 percent of regular-season games — the more attention it draws. Even if Henrik Zetterberg dissents, asserting the shooters need to score more, too, one guy per team is on the ice for all the shots.
And, often enough, he is at the mercy of chances and probabilities.
"Well, it's a 50-50 chance," said Petr Mrazek, the 22-year-old Red Wings rookie. "It's like: Sometimes it goes in, sometimes it goes out.
"Sometimes it has to hit you. Be lucky."
Mrazek found out Sunday as he was on the wrong end of a 2-1 shootout loss to the Avalanche, which dropped the Wings' record to 1-7 in shootouts this season.
It helps to be resilient, and that is Howard's great strength.
After the shootout loss to the Blue Jackets, when he dueled Sergei Bobrovsky to a shutout draw in regulation and overtime with a brilliant 29-save performance before allowing two goals in the tie-breaking tournament, Howard was low-key, maybe a bit disgusted with the state of things.
But he stood before the media and answered every question. Ultimately, he resigned himself to simple statements
"I don't think I bit on either one of their moves," he said, of the shooters. "I stayed with them.
"I don't know what to say, you guys."
Of the 59 goalies who have participated in the tie-breaking tourney, he was last in save percentage, .267 (four saves, 15 shots).
But of all the NHL goalies who have faced at least 100 shots in the shootout during their careers, Howard's performance is far better, a .677 percentage (107 saves, 158 shots).
Two days after he effectively pitched a shutout, only to lose in the shootout, an effervescent Howard sat in front of his dressing stall next to Mrazek, willing to entertain questions about his recent cold streak, even to the point of poking fun at himself.
"Strategy? I think it's pretty obvious, at this point, I don't have one," Howard said, before laughing at the concept.
A smile barely left his face the whole time he discussed the travails.
"The strategy is to just kind of get a win in the shootout; just trying to do various things to be successful," he said.
Does his style, a stalwart approach, emphasizing the first shot, positioning and remaining "big" on each chance, decrease his chances in the shootout?
"No, I don't think so, because I was pretty good at them in the past," he said.
"I don't know, for some reason, it's been a tough go this year.
"And, I think, really to be honest with you, it's just getting that win — get that one win, you know, everything will calm down from there."
There are, in fact, some strategies and techniques goalies use in the shootout. But they do not amount to a lot. They watch a good deal of video and break down shooters' moves and their own movements.
But shooters can do different things. Or, what is more likely, the same things in a different order, or a different way.
"I think every goalie has a set way he plays shooters," said Chris Osgood, the former Red Wings goalie and coach, and now a broadcasting analyst for Fox Sports Detroit.
"When you know a guy, you'll know his first move or his second. That's about it. You'll consciously know a guy's move from just watching him on TV or maybe you've seen him previously.
"You don't play it differently from shot to shot and you don't do the same thing — repetition, like a golf swing. But you'll just consciously know who's shooting and what their tendencies are.
"That's what you're thinking."
Howard said he watches plenty of film, and breaks things down with goalie coach Jim Bedard, trying to master opponents' inclinations.
It helps, certainly. But it is not fail-safe.
"To be honest, you never really know who's going to be coming over the boards," Howard said. "But you've got a good opportunity from just watching guys in the past. So, we try and see what their tendencies are."
That part is tougher for Howard than it was when he played, Osgood said.
"They used to have to write down the three guys, so you'd know who was going to shoot next," he said. "But now you don't know, because the coach can call anybody off the bench.
"I mean, before, the three guys used to stand on the ice, so you would know inside your head, what each guy was going to do, maybe, with their second move.
"Now, I think with these young guys coming up and being so good, their skill levels being so high and the goalies not really knowing who these guys are, it's more difficult."
There is also the trying not to think too much part.
It usually follows the thinking part, and it is when the process becomes almost all sight, reflexes, reaction and coordination.
It is especially important to be in the moment with all the dramatic changes in pace the shooters execute.
"What's different in the shootout, from breakaway, is the players aren't being followed," said Darren Eliot, who played 89 games in the NHL before moving to the booth, now for FSD. "In a game situation, they can't do the change-of-pace moves.
"If I've noticed anything (with Howard) that sometimes may be problematic —where they can come in and slow down their pace, that throws off your retreat to the net. And that's one thing that's seemed to work for the shooters, this year, against Jimmy."
Against the Blue Jackets, Howard also employed two other noticeable tactics, he skated aggressively toward shooters, as they began to approach the net. And when the skater got to about the crease, after Howard had backtracked, he placed his stick down on the ice, lengthwise, the flat paddle move.
The first tactic is designed to take away space in the net, and the second, to prevent a low, easy goal.
Osgood said skating out as if to confront the shooter is "just to take away the net, so he can't see anything. That's just to pressure him into doing something he doesn't want to do."
It does emphasize an efficient retreat and the need to adjust on the move, if the shooter changes pace.
"It takes away the net," Eliot said. "But what that does then is put extra pressure on your ability to gauge the pacing, and change of paces.
"You have to cover more ice now. You put more pressure (on yourself)."
Eliot says he favors the approach of goalies like Henrik Lundqvist, who remain deeper in the crease, waiting for the shooter.
"Everyone has a different comfort level outside the top of the crease, and then you have to make only one move, left or right, or take the shot, instead of coming out and trying to gauge it," Eliot said. "You've put more skating into the mix."
As for "the paddle" flat on the ice, it is a patented move. But only for when the shooter is in close, and a catching glove raised to the chest can take away the corner above the shoulder, lowered to place the stick down to the ice.
"If you do it when the guy's far out, it's not a very good move," Osgood said. "But if a guy's in tight, which is like two or three feet out, he's coming in very low, it's tough for him to get the puck straight up and over the top of you.
"Eddie Belfour kinda invented it back when he played in Chicago.
"As a goalie the thing you want least is to allow an easy goal, and the definition of that is something that goes through you or underneath you along the ice," Osgood said.
Again, Eliot likes the move less, in a shootout.
"I think the move with the paddle on the ice, the flat paddle move, is a really good move for in-game, in tight plays," he said. "On breakaways, I'm not as big a fan.
"I'd rather them be more aggressive with their stick forward, like the poke check. Retreat to the bottom of the ice with your pads, and then force them to make a quick play with the poke check aggressively out."
That maneuver, which revolutionized a goaltender's previous approach, was perfected by Dominik Hasek.
Goalies come to the shootout in the late teen years, usually as they play in juniors or attend college.
"At the youth level there really aren't shootouts," said Kevin Reiter, goaltending coach at the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, in Ann Arbor. "For the really young, young kids, you don't really work on the shootout.
"When we work on the breakaways, you are worried about controlling the depth, the gap between the player and the goalie.
"But, I think at the pro level, talking about Howard and Mrazek, everything is broken down so much. Every level of detail is unbelievable.
"There's a lot of scouting reports and video. You know, here's the last 25 shot attempts Jimmy's saved and here's what's been successful and not successful."
Preparation, concentration and the proper reaction. But it still requires good fortune.
As the Red Wings season progresses, a roster in transition continues to earn its place in the Eastern Conference with the schedule beginning to near the halfway mark.
Howard says he is well aware of the importance of the extra point that comes with winning the shootout.
Until he accomplishes it, do not expect him to be too down, though. It is not Howard's way, or his personality.
"Yeah, you know, I just want to win in the worst way," he said. "We want to get that win and get it going.
"You know, it's just one of those things, you've just to keep trucking along until it happens."
The Red Wings are last in the NHL in save percentage in shootouts. Here are the bottom-feeders (SA-shots against; GA-goals against):
28. Tampa Bay
24. New Jersey
23. N.Y. Rangers