The Minny Circus
If you want to see a shootout show, check out the Minnesota Wild next time they go to deciding penalty shots.
The Wild, of course, have changed their team personality this year, going from a stolid defensive club into an attacking team capable of explosive offence.
In the shootout, however, it's like watching the Harlem Globetrotters, as Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks found out last night.
Four Minnesota shooters - none of them named Marian Gaborik - took a free shot on Luongo, and three of them scored via distinctly different tactics.
First, Pavol Demitra swerved far right almost to the boards, cut in towards the Vancouver net and fired a wrist shot past Luongo's blocker.
Then the left-handed shooting Mikko Koivu swerved left, not quite as far as Demitra, then beat Luongo by cutting to his right and lifting a spectacular backhand to the top right corner.
Brian Rolston was the third Minny shooter, and he left Luongo flopping in his crease, as well with a backhand move. Sadly for Rolston, he was a little too casual on his shot and fired it into a sprawling Luongo's glove.
Finally, it was defenceman Petteri Nummelin's chance, and he dazzled the crowd and left Luongo on his butt with a gorgeous backhand deke to give the Wild the shootout, 3-2.
It was the seventh shootout of the young NHL season. The five goals improved the shooting percentage of NHL snipers in the shootout to slightly more than 24 per cent (15-for-62), not nearly the 50-50 proposition most would believe a breakaway is at that level.
Then again, that shooting percentage would be higher if the Rangers and Flyers hadn't gone a combined 1-26 in their Saturday shootout.
Interestingly, the Wild were the first team so far this season to take advantage of the new rule that allows the home team to choose to go second in the shootout.
In the other six shootouts, including two involving the Leafs, the home team chose to shoot first, and lost on four occasions.
Leaf head coach Paul Maurice says his forwards want to shoot first and his goalies want the chance to be the hero by saving the deciding shot.
So far, the numbers say Maurice is wrong. But we'll see how this pattern develops over the course of the season.