Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun debate whether star players like Steven Stamkos should be on the bench for a shootout, plus they look at the resilient Caps, Pens and Stars:
Burnside: Good day, my friend. It almost feels like playoff time, and there's still a month to go in the regular season. There were three games Monday night and two went to a shootout, with the other decided in overtime.
I'm sure a lot of fans were scratching their heads when they saw the shootout lineup from Tampa coach Guy Boucher: Dominic Moore led off, followed by Adam Hall and Vincent Lecavalier. All three were stoned, while Alex Ovechkin's lone goal in the extra session gave the Caps a 2-1 win and a two-point edge over Tampa Bay atop the Southeast Division.
Alexander Semin was the only other shooter for the Caps (Semin scored the tying goal in the third), so you could hardly quibble with Washington coach Bruce Boudreau's selections. But picking shooters for the shootout has always been a bit of a mug's game. Does a coach go to a guy who has success in shootout drills during practice? What about a player who has had a strong game even if he's not noted as a scorer?
Hall has had success in the past, and Moore leads the Bolts with three shootout goals this season. Bottom line is, the strategy works when you win, but when you leave Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis on the bench (they have a combined 65 goals this season), it's a little more difficult to explain.
LeBrun: Hard to argue with Guy Boucher. Stamkos and St. Louis are a combined 0-for-8 this season in the shootout. Historically, St. Louis is 5-for-27! The trick event is just not for him. Stamkos is 4-for-19 in his young career. Moore, meanwhile, is 3-for-6 this season, while Hall is 2-for-7, so that is why Boucher did what he did.
"The normal top three for the most part has been [Victor] Hedman-Hall-Moore for about the last 4 or 5 shootouts," Lightning beat writer Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune shared via e-mail. "He also likes to use Ryan Malone, who is 2-for-3 this year but is injured while Hedman is 2-for-6 ... Those are the only four guys on the roster who have converted a shootout attempt this season."
Stars around the league struggle with the shootout. Remember how Jaromir Jagr didn't want to do it after the lockout? I mean, we're talking about Jaromir Jagr! So, I've got no issue with what Boucher did in the shootout. He's going with the numbers -- that's what coaches get paid to do. I'm sure at some point he'll put Stamkos back in the shootout after the young sniper works on a few new moves in practice; but, for now, I think Boucher went the right route. Many stars around the league get benched for the shootout. That is why I would do away with the silly trick event.
The silver lining for Tampa Bay fans is that the Bolts didn't pick up another shootout win that would be disregarded at the end of the regular season if they require any type of tiebreaker in the standings. The Bolts have five shootout wins, the Caps now have three. For the first time this season, shootout wins are taken out of a team's overall win total in tiebreakers.
Speaking of big playoff-type games, how about Dallas coming back in Los Angeles to take a 4-3 overtime victory? You have to admire the way the Stars are surviving without Brad Richards.
Burnside: Ah, I knew your love of the shootout would shine through.
You're right about the Stars, who went 3-0-1 on their recent four-game road trip and are now fifth overall in the Western Conference. It just goes to show you that the loss of one player does not necessarily mean the end of a season. There is no timetable for Richards' return from a concussion, but the Stars have shown remarkable resilience when it looked like they were going to spiral out of the playoff picture entirely a few weeks ago.
Kudos to coach Marc Crawford for keeping the team on track; the addition of Alex Goligoski has also turned out to be a boon. He had a few more assists last night for the Stars. Dallas' play reminds me of Pittsburgh and how it remains a competitive team even without Sidney Crosby and, more Evgeni Malkin and, most recently, defensive anchor Brooks Orpik, among others.
The Pens are only two points behind slumping Philadelphia for the top spot in the Atlantic Division and are in the hunt for the top seed in the East (they are tied with Boston and Washington with 84 points). Boston has the edge because it has played fewer games. Either way, you have to think Crawford and Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma should get some consideration for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.
LeBrun: Scotty, I spoke with Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff yesterday for a Sabres blog we're posting today. We talked about the Penguins, and he said one thing he has noticed is how they've adapted without Crosby and Malkin; he thinks they are playing a real grind-it-out game and have forcibly improved their defensive play. In short, the Pens are a hard team to play against even without the same offensive depth. Bylsma has indeed done a tremendous job keeping his team afloat.
Before we go, we should mention Tuesday night's big tilt in Montreal, where the rival Bruins visit. I love Boston's game right now. I think the B's are the league's most physical team, making you pay a price for every inch of ice.
Burnside: I think it will be interesting to see what happens in the postseason for teams like the Pens and Caps, two previously dynamic offensive teams that have now remade themselves into very tough defensive teams. That Tampa-Washington game Monday had a real playoff feel to it, and those were the games the Caps couldn't win last postseason against Montreal.
I know you and many others are banging the Boston drum. I want to see how they respond when the puck drops in the playoffs and they hit some adversity. Maybe last season's epic choke job against Philadelphia in the second round will galvanize the Bruins, but I am going to need them to prove that to me. With the Flyers stumbling a bit (they are still, for my money, the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference), I wouldn't be surprised to see Boston end up with the top seed.
LeBrun: The Caps have taken a lot of heat all season for their mystifying play, but they've really come on of late with five straight wins and an 8-2-0 record in their past 10 games. You wonder if this was all part of Boudreau's master plan. After all, going wire-to-wire to win the President's Trophy and scoring the most goals last season didn't work for them when the hockey really mattered. So perhaps reinventing themselves as a two-way hockey team at the expense of Ovechkin's offensive totals was part of the plan. A good omen for the playoffs? We'll find out soon enough. Until tomorrow.