ARLINGTON—Over the past few weeks, the Capitals have started dedicating more time in practice to working on shootouts.
Why? A couple of reasons: The standings point awarded for a skills competition victory could prove critical later this season. And, well, right now the Caps aren’t very good at them, despite a bevy of skilled forwards and a top goaltender.
In fact, through 32 games, the Caps have gone to the shootout four times—and they’ve won just once.
“It’s part of the game,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “If it wasn’t part of the game, we wouldn’t work on it. But it is; they’re valuable points. We've got some dynamic shooters and good goaltending, we just haven’t been on the right side enough. You never know when those two or three or four points during the year could make a big difference.”
The Caps’ most recent trip to the shootout—a 3-2 loss in Philly last Wednesday—left Trotz feeling like they had allowed a valuable point to slip.
“We had an opportunity,” Trotz said. “Scored the first one, got a save. If we can score another one or get that extra save, then we’re able to come back. We lost a point that we could have had. We’ll keep working at it.”
Trotz doesn’t incorporate shootout drills into practice every day, but it’s been happening more and more in recent weeks. It typically happens toward the end of practice and takes the form of an intrasquad competition. The Caps divide into two teams and alternate shots on goaltenders Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer, who are stationed at either end. By the end, there’s usually a little trash talk and/or whooping and hollering.
It’s a fun way to wrap up practice. But it also serves a purpose: T.J. Oshie and Co. get to polish their moves, while Holtby and Grubauer can focus on deciphering a shooter’s tells and work on remaining patient as the shooter bears down on the net.
The Caps have a pair of top shootout performers in Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Oshie is a perfect 3 for 3 this season, with one game deciding goal, and Kuznetsov is 2 for 4.
At the other end, Holtby is 0-3 in games decided in the shootout, allowing seven goals on 12 shots against. He’s also not a fan of deciding games in a skills competition. Grubauer, meantime, earned the Caps’ only shootout win, at Carolina on Dec. 16, though it should be noted both Hurricanes’ shooters were officially credited with missing the net.
“I don’t think there’s such a thing as automatic,” Trotz said, asked if his team should be better based on its collective skill level. “It’s a skill set. It’s not really about natural goal scoring. It’s about reading and deception and being able to sell your wares coming into the goalie and then executing.”
“Like T.J., he goes in there with three or four moves and he executes,” Trotz added. “And that’s why he’s so good. He sells deception. He doesn’t have a lot of tells and when it comes to the execution part, he’s able to do that. We have a lot of guys that can do that. You’d be amazed at some guys that are so skilled and then you throw them out there and they do something totally different and are not able to get it done.”
As the league prepares to return from Christmas break, Detroit has been best in shootouts (5-0) while Toronto has been worst (0-5). The Caps rank toward the bottom, but Trotz feels like they could and should be higher.
And they’ll keep working at it until they are.
“That’s something we can be better at,” he said, “everything from Holts’ patience on those [shots] to us executing. So it’s not one thing. It’s a little bit of both.”
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