Shootout still doesn’t taste right
I love the shootout. The game on the line. One team’s best shooters against the other team’s best shooters. The goalies quaking in their bulky skates. Fans going crazy. The clock frozen. A full day’s blood, sweat, and tears boiled down to the itsiest-bitsiest moment in time and the game right there to be won.
Now that’s hockey, pure and palpable - hockey served up like caviar and poured out like champagne.
Rubbish. Regular readers of this space know I don’t believe a single word of that. I typed the whole pack of lies with my fingers crossed. (And if you think that’s easy, sit down right now and try typing “blood, sweat, and tears’’ with your fingers crossed.)
The lying is easy, but the typing requires some real touch, not unlike Tyler Seguin’s dazzling stick work and crackerjack backhand lift for a shootout goal in the Bruins’ 4-3 win yesterday.
Now more than 6 1/2 seasons into the New NHL, I’d like to report here this morning that I have been won over, that the game’s line-’em-up-and-let-’em-rip amendment of 2005 has captured my soul and spirit.
Sorry. I still think it’s a chintzy, aberrant way of sending one team home a winner, the other a loser. Mix in the NHL’s contrived 3-point game factor - awarding a point to the alleged loser - and, well, any game that ends with an alleged loser getting a point has a problem. To reward losing is to apply a discount to winning.
But I have changed my opinion of the shootout in and of itself. I like it. (My fingers aren’t crossed here.) I like the exercise of it, the execution, the staging, the strategy, the drama.
The shootout is far better than, say, a home run derby, which I also like. After nine innings, a game tied at Fenway, I could appreciate the teams sending their best batters to the plate to knock balls out of the park. I would enjoy that even before the game. Beats the heck out of infield practice.
I just wouldn’t want three-plus hours of pitching, hitting, and fielding to be set aside wholesale and the game’s outcome to be determined on a ball that clears the Mass. Pike. It’s just not what the game is about.
Bruins coach Claude Julien said yesterday, after his club advanced its shootout record to an impressive 6-1 this season, that he is not all that keen on the shootout, either.
“I’d prefer we don’t have it,’’ said the coach, who is old school enough that he noted, “A hard-fought tie is worth a lot.’’
But if the league wants it (check) and the fans want it (double check), then that’s OK, said the guy who runs the Boston bench.
“Hey, we’re in the entertainment business,’’ said Julien, “and you have to respect that.’’
I grew even more interested in the whole thing when I asked Julien what went into his decision-making when it came to picking yesterday’s shooters. He rolled through a detailed explanation of why he went with David Krejci as his leadoff hitter, Tyler Seguin in the two-hole, Patrice Bergeron at the closer’s No. 3 spot.
“There’s a lot of different things that come into play,’’ he said, noting that Krejci has been hot of late in the shootout, that Seguin is highly skilled, that Bergeron has rekindled his touch for the process.
“You can talk about a lot of different things,’’ said Julien, “and one of them is, ‘Is the shooter a hot shooter?’
“What kind of goaltender do they have? We have our scouting report. Are [the goalies] guys that get on the deke more . . . or are they [beaten] on shots more . . . and [if so] where are the shots coming from?’’
Krejci squeezed off a short-range wrister, turned back by the left pad of the gargantuan Pekka Rinne. Krejci seemed an unlikely choice, considering he has been demoted to third-line center and went without a point yesterday for a fifth straight game.
Seguin came next and, per his planning, turned on the jets until he came within some 20 feet of Rinne, who began to retreat as Seguin slowed.
“He had been coming out pretty far,’’ said Seguin, getting his fix on Rinne off of Krejci’s attempt. “So I wanted to push him back a little, wait him out, then make my move.
“When you’re going in like that, you don’t see much net, so I knew I wanted to deke there, too. And then there’s a few areas you’re thinking you might shoot, then finally you go for what you see.’’
Bergeron then closed it, heading right down Broadway and finishing with a straight doorstep forehander between Rinne’s pads. Day done. Bruins a winner. Predators a half-winner.
No question, the sold-out crowd of 17,565 loved it. Had the whole day been about the making and baking of a cake, the shootout was sort of like being the one left to enjoy the last lick of icing out of the bowl. Sweet. Delicious. But when you’ve put all that work into the cake, it just doesn’t taste right.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.