“I think early, you didn’t manage it as well,” Trotz said. “You sort of went for the kill right away, and then if you didn’t get it, it was coming back down your throat. There’s a little bit more of the management. I know with us, puck possession is huge. We put our best puck-possession guy on the ice right at the start, and that’s Kuzy.”
While teams may not be necessarily using that same plan, three-on-three overtime is getting to be more defensive, as a higher percentage are resulting in shootout. According to USA Today, in the first three months of the season, 34 percent (44 of 129) of regulation ties ended in a shootout, and since Jan. 1, 45 percent (50 of 111) have been decided in a shootout.
“That’s probably pretty typical for this time of year anyways because of people in the race to get into the playoffs,” Niskanen said. “Every little point is so valuable. Typically when it gets more competitive, the league gets more defensive.”
The Capitals played three overtime games on their road trip. The first one (against Boston) ended with a Niskanen goal in the last minute. In Anaheim, Washington won in a shootout, and two nights later, a poor change resulted in a Los Angeles win in overtime. Niskanen said he’s seen less two-on-one end-to-end rushes in overtime as the season has developed, and it’s trended towards puck control and cycling in the offensive zone, which can kill a lot of time.
“It’s a little less risk,” Niskanen said. “I think teams have figured out that when you don’t have the puck, you can’t be quite as aggressive as in four-on-four. It’s probably toned down a little bit.”
Of the Capitals’ 14 overtime games, five went to a shootout, about 36 percent. Washington has won nine of its overtime games, and of the five that went to a shootout, the Capitals won four of them, the one loss being in Columbus on Jan. 2. That’s because Washington has the skill to shine in a shootout, especially with T.J. Oshie going first and Kuznetsov going second. Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin alternate on who goes third.
Though the Capitals have fared well in shootouts, they enjoy the overtime more than they thought they would before the season.
“I hated the sound of it before the season,” Niskanen said. “I thought it sounded horrible, but now, it’s really grown on me. It’s different and it’s exciting.”