“One team could dominate in overtime, then just make it to a shootout,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “Whereas now you have to make sure you’re playing well. If 3-on-3 comes and you’re not playing well, then it’s going to be over real quick. It’ll be interesting. I think it’s pretty cool though.”
“Anything to get rid of the shootout, in my opinion,” forward Eric Fehr said. “I’m all for it.”
“It’s exciting to watch, that’s for sure,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “But it’s pretty tiring.”
Last season, the Capitals set an NHL record with 21 shootout appearances and their 4-4 record in the skills competition this season includes a league-high 20-rounder in mid-December. Most recently, they squeaked past the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night thanks to forward Evgeny Kuznetsov’s first-round strike and goaltender Braden Holtby’s three saves.
According to data provided by the AHL, relayed here by Yahoo’s Puck Daddy, the league decreased its shootout rate by roughly 10 percentage points (15.6 to 5.7) despite almost no change in the number of games going to overtime (24.3 percent this season, 24.1 percent last season).
Unlike the NHL, which proceeds to a shootout if five minutes of overtime passed without resolution, the AHL’s new format splits a seven-minute overtime period into two sections. Upon the first whistle after the three-minute mark, the action switches to 3-on-3, creating a fast-paced situation heavy on turnovers, odd-man rushes and scoring chances.
“It’d be probably two-on-one one way, two-on-one back kind of deal, which would be a lot of fun for the fans to watch,” Fehr said. “They might find that even more entertaining than the shootout. I’m not a fan of the shootout. I don’t think it really belongs in the game. It’s not really a game feel. It feels more like a skills competition. That’s not the way the game’s meant to be played in my opinion.”
While on a recent conditioning stint with the Hershey Bears that turned into a rehabilitation assignment thanks to a fractured shoulder blade, Schmidt didn’t get to participate in the 3-on-3 format, but watched his teammates navigate it and said they came away smitten.
“It’s a love-hate relationship,” he said. “It’s great, if you get the puck first. If not, it’s tough. There’s just so much ice, you can skate yourself out of problems. If you win the draw, apparently it’s a great time. If you don’t, you’re just chasing pucks. There’s so much ice for three guys. I can’t even imagine at the NHL level, some of the guys’ skill, I don’t think you’d ever get the puck away from some guys, unless someone took a shot.”
A decade older than Schmidt, Orpik focused more on the potential health issues associated with extra overtime.
“My personal opinion, I don’t think you want to extend the game any longer,” he said. “They want to do four minutes and then three minutes, they just keep adding time on. But with the way the schedule is, you get done with four-on-four overtime and you’re gassed, they just keep extending the game, I think you have to address some of the health issues that are involved there. But I don’t know. My opinion, if you’re going to go to 3-on-3, just go to 3-on-3 right away. You don’t need to do 4-on-4 then 3-on-3. But that’s not my decision.”
Assuming the measure is approved, questions still remain, such as whether the NHL would strictly separate 4-on-4 and 3-on-3, or base the switch off an organic whistle — it could be implemented as soon as next season. Asked Wednesday about that prospect, Coach Barry Trotz appeared to have already put some thought into 3-on-3, promising he would discuss strategy with Hershey Coach Troy Mann, should the need arise.
“You’re going to probably have to extend your bench a little bit, which is fine,” Trotz said. “I haven’t seen it work in the American League, so I couldn’t tell you how it works. Coaches in both leagues will have to ask how they manage that. I’ll be asking Troy and that, probably manage it some of their thoughts.”