NHL coaches, players not always fans of shootout

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No team in the NHL has won more games in the shootout this season than the Washington Capitals. Eight of their 19 victories have come in what many hockey people simply refer to as "the skills competition" that comes after teams have played 60 minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime without resolution.

So, what does coach Adam Oates think about the shootout?

"I don't believe in them," he said after a pregame skate before their game Monday against the Anaheim Ducks at Verizon Center. "I know the fans like it, but that's because it has kind of a carnival effect. I mean, I get it. It's in the rules, but maybe because I never played with it, I don't really like it very much."

Oates' Hall of Fame career as a player ended in 2004, just before the NHL adopted the shootout in 2005 at the end of the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season. Finding a way to avoid ties was one of several ways the league attempted to lure fans back to the game. In a sense, the shootout has worked. Fans love them, and players today, while seeing its flaws, don't seem to have the issues with it that hockey traditionalists do.

"It's the way of hockey now, so you might as well embrace it," Troy Brouwer said. "Plus, it's fun. If someone's watching TV and flipping around and they come to a hockey game and it's going to shootout, they stop and watch. When you're in one, it's fun, too, whether you're shooting or cheering on your teammates or your goalie. I like it."

The shootout isn't going away because it is fun and because fans like it. But some believe it plays much too big a role. There has been talk about extending overtime -- perhaps playing five minutes of three-on-three if four-on-four for five minutes doesn't produce a winner. Many in hockey also believe -- very quietly -- the points system should be changed.

Many soccer leagues around the world award three points if a team wins in regulation or overtime and two if a teams wins on penalty kicks -- soccer's version of the shootout. A team that loses in overtime or on penalty kicks gets one point. Some think hockey should go in the same direction.

"Yes," general manager George McPhee said instantly when asked if that idea made sense.

McPhee understands how much people enjoy the shootout, but he also believes a team should be rewarded for winning a hockey game rather than tying a hockey game and winning a shootout.

"Look, my son [who recently committed to play at Boston College] used to want to see shootout highlights in the morning before hockey highlights," he said. "I get that. It's entertaining, it has drama, and kids love it. You look around the arena during a shootout, and everyone's standing.

"But I don't think anyone thinks that it's the same as winning a hockey game."

Except the NHL.

Shootout wins are not as important as regulation wins when it comes to breaking ties in the standings at the end of the regular season. But, for the most part, teams that can win in shootouts with some consistency usually can jump a place or two in the standings by season's end.

"It feels the same as any other win," Brooks Laich said. "We're all pretty black and white. You come back in the room after winning in a shootout, the feeling is the same as after a win in regulation. You lose one, there's the consolation of getting a point but you still feel like you lost."

Laich believes the league should at least study the possibility of a 3-2-1 system. "I think it's pretty ignorant if you aren't at least open to looking at changes that might make the game better or fairer," he said.

"Shootouts have become very important in the standings. The [Detroit] Red Wings lost, what? 11 straight shootouts?

"If they win five or six of them, it makes a huge difference. We've certainly benefited this season from it; there's no doubt about that."

Even forward Eric Fehr, 5 for 5 this season in shootouts, isn't a fan of the gimmick.

"I don't really like shootouts," he said last week. "I wish we didn't have them in the game." Later, he added, "I think it's too individual. Hockey's a team game."

The Capitals were 9-14 in games that ended in regulation this season after a 3-2 loss Monday against Anaheim. Their overall record has been enhanced by eight shootout wins, two overtime wins and four post-regulation losses -- one in overtime, three in shootouts.

While the Capitals gladly accept the extra points, they are aware that there are no shootouts in the playoffs and their overall record playing hockey was 11-15 at that point.

"What's the key to winning shootouts?" Oates said, smiling. "Luck. Just don't tell the players I said that."

But the shootout and the importance of the shootout are unlikely to change soon.

"I'd hate to see us do anything that reminded anyone of soccer, anyway," Brouwer said, laughing.

"We wouldn't want to do that."

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