BOSTON – Boston, we have a problem.
One of the big bugaboos for the Black and Gold this entire season has been the shootout, and their complete futility at what’s essentially a skills challenge to determine a winner and loser in NHL regular season game. It cropped up again in Saturday night’s 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals at TD Garden where the Bruins let a one-goal lead slip away in the final minute of the third period and watched as another team waited them out in overtime and the shootout for the two points.
For the second straight time, Charlie Coyle finally scored a goal for the Bruins during the shootout making him the only effective player in that arena this season. And Jaroslav Halak kept them in it with some acrobatic saves in the extra session.
But in the end, the B’s best available players didn’t come through in the shootout session and the Bruins dropped to 0-4 this season when it comes to the shootout.
“I think so,” admitted Pastrnak, when asked if the shootout problems have become a bit of a mental issue at this point. “We know it hasn’t been our strength and we haven’t been able to pull a win out of the shootouts. It sucks obviously. Usually shootouts are 50/50, but for us right now it feels like it’s about 20/80.”
Or 0/100 actually at this point.
Part of the issue for the Bruins is their inability to beat teams in overtime and the other part is a complete inability to even be competitive in the shootout.
“In our group, now, at some point, the conversation becomes ‘do you sell out in overtime because we struggle in shootouts, right?’ But, at the end of the day, I thought we’ve made strides in overtime,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We lost a lot of [overtime games] early, at least we’re getting our opportunities to win in overtime, so we’d like to be able to close one of those out. But that’s a bit of the, maybe, what’s happened in the shootout, right?
“When you get in all alone [at the net on breakaway chances], we’re more of a volume team, even though we have high-end skill, it would seem in the short sample size. It’s now growing into a larger sample size, so it’s something we’re looking at. But we’re not going to overanalyze. Every day, it’s been so much time in practice [so] we [can’t] forget about the rest of the game that I feel is more important for us down the road, but we do need to address it. We have, but maybe we need a little bit more time on that.”
Part of the problem is that Boston’s goaltending becomes less than elite in the shootout, and it’s a noted area of the NHL game that Rask has never particularly liked, or felt comfortable with, during his NHL career. Halak gave the Bruins a fighting chance with diving saves in Saturday night’s loss, so that wasn’t the issue at all.
Instead it’s a Bruins team that’s 2-for-16 overall in the four losses in the shootout this season, and Boston’s big offensive guns in Marchand (0-for-4) and Pastrnak (0-for-3) are a combined 0-for-7 this season. Pastrnak is now 3-for-20 over his career with a very middling 15 percent success rate in the shootout, but Marchand is a bit better with nine goals in 41 career attempts for a 21.9 percent success rate.
Strangely enough, Patrice Bergeron is one of the most accomplished shootout guys on the Bruins roster with 28 goals in 89 attempts for a 28.1 percent success rate, but he was never tapped in any of Boston’s first three shootouts before being unavailable due to injury on Saturday.
The Bruins tried something different by giving fourth line winger Chris Wagner shootout attempts in each of the last couple of games after showing some decent moves within his breakaway chances.
But Wagner is 0-for-2 as well and at this point doesn’t really merit any more looks ahead of more offensively accomplished players on the Bruins roster.
So what can the Bruins do at this point given the shootout futility where their best players aren’t getting it done?
Part of it involves sticking with guys like Pastrnak and Marchand that have the goods to eventually succeed in the shootout, and part of it might be practicing it a little more often than the Bruins do in their hectic practice schedule during the regular season.
The other part?
It’s probably time to use some younger guys like Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen that don’t have a book on them already around the NHL when it comes to shootout tendencies, and perhaps grooming one of them to be a shootout specialist with a varying degree of moves. They may never be the shootout weapon that TJ Oshie is with his career success rate of over 50 percent in the shootout, but they might actually pick up the extra point once in a while.
That is something the Bruins aren’t doing right now and it’s already cost them four very valuable points this season.
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