Scanlan: At last, a shootout to celebrate

Marc Methot, left, keeps the puck away from Jakub Voracek during the first period as the Ottawa Senators take on the Philadelphia Flyers in NHL action at the Canadian Tire Centre. (Wayne Cuddington/Ottawa Citizen)

Here’s a switch – the Ottawa Senators won a shootout!

Around here, it’s usually imperative to take care of business inside of 65 minutes, but finally the Senators found a way to win a skills competition, their first in five tries, beating the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 on a Jason Spezza deke.

Shootouts, a dirty word in the Nation’s Capital, are the after-dinner mints of the NHL.

They hardly qualify as a meal. They’re not even satisfying as a dessert. But for teams that win them, and for the fans that follow those teams, they represent a minor treat – an extra point – at the end of a long night at the rink.

Those points can be difference-makers. Ask the Washington Capitals, winners of six shootouts this season against 2 losses: six points that are the difference right now between the Capitals sitting second in the Metro Division versus being in a non-playoff position.

As for the Senators, they just tasted their first after-dinner sweet.

Until Spezza’s snipe, individual Senators shooters were 0 for 12. Nary a goal in 12 showdowns between shooter and opposition goalie.

Despite these numbers, head coach Paul MacLean has stuck with his shooters, although he changed the order on Monday, with Clarke MacArthur and Bobby Ryan preceding Spezza.

Actually, assistant coach Dave Cameron changed the order, as MacLean let him make the call. And this wasn’t the first time MacLean had one of his assistants draw up the shootout lineup.

“It’s the first time I’m giving them credit for it,” MacLean said.

Is it tough to stick with his veterans when they keep coming up short ?

“It’s not tough for me, I have no trouble putting Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek in,” MacLean said on the morning of the Flyers game.

The coach had either Clarke MacArthur or Ryan in the third slot Saturday, MacLean said, but the shootout ended abruptly when both James van Riemsdyk and Mason Raymond scored for Toronto, to send a mob of Leafs fans home happy from the Canadian Tire Centre.

Call him resolute, call him stubborn. Call him consistent. MacLean believes in players having a track record in the shootout event, and Spezza is the runaway best performing shootout player in Senators history. Despite his struggles this season, No. 19 has still converted 38 per cent of his shootout attempts – 19 of 49 chances.

Prior to Monday, Michalek had dipped to 26.1 per cent, with six goals on 23 shots.

After missing on Monday, Ryan has seven goals on 27 attempts.

Mika Zibanejad is a 50 per cent guy, but has only gone to the circle twice in his young career, scoring on one of the two. Erik Karlsson has a career mark of one for four.

Kyle Turris is a nifty 33.3 per cent, with five goals on 15 attempts.

“Historically, Spezza and Michalek score in the shootout,” said MacLean, not one to marvel at practice players who dazzle without any pressure on them.

“Practice is one thing, it’s another thing with 19,000 people out there,” MacLean said.

“People who have been there and done that, they’re going to go through some cold times,” MacLean said. “They’re going to score every time, lots of times. Right now they’re in a cold time, but that doesn’t mean you go away from them because of that. I think the fact you stick with them, it’s going to give them more confidence the next time they go.”

If MacLean won’t change his top end shooters, he certainly wouldn’t change his goaltender – for example, using Robin Lehner for the shootout after Craig Anderson played the first 65 minutes.

“Only if I had to,” MacLean said, due to an injury.

Kudos to Anderson who stopped all three Flyer shooters (with a little help from a goalpost). After a Sean Couturier shootout attempt clanged off the post, ensuring an Ottawa victory, Anderson pumped his gloved hands into the air in celebration.

He should celebrate.

Before Monday, the last Ottawa goaltender to record a shootout victory was neither Anderson nor Lehner. It was Ben Bishop, before he was traded away to the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 3. In his brief Senators tenure, Bishop was a shootout star– 4-0 in the specialty event last season, stopping all but three of 19 breakaway shots against. That’s an .843 save percentage, a gaudy number considering the nature of the beast.

Anderson and Lehner have split the four shootout losses this season.

Historically, the shootout has not been Ottawa’s friend in recent years. At the best of times, the Senators have been decent – last year, when everything seemed to fall their way except in the injury department, the Sens were 4-4 in shootouts, 10th ranked overall.

In 2011-12, the Senators were 15th at 6-4 (including a 5-2 road shootout record), and in that woeful 2010-11 season, Ottawa ranked 29th with a 2-5 mark, with both shootout wins taking place away from home.

Wisely, the organization is on the record as recommending longer overtime periods to settle games.
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