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Shootouts Are For Getting Weird

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 15: K'Andre Miller #79 of the New York Rangers celebrates after scoring the game-winning shootout goal against the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden on February 15, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
Steven Ryan/Getty Images

I abhor the shootout. It doesn't need to exist. It's not hockey. Ties are fine. They're fairer, they dispense with the loser point, and I don't find them unsatisfying at all. But I guess some do, and among that some is the people who make the rules. So if we're going to have a shootout, all that I ask—and I don't think it's unreasonable—is that players get weird with it. Get all sorts of funky. Treat it like what it is: something that exists less for competitive purposes than it does as entertainment. Do not skate straight in and wrist it from between the circles; I do not wish to see that. I wish to see dekes and crazy stickwork and idiot goof-off shit you pull at the end of practice just to give the fellas a laugh. I care about this at least as much as I care about my team actually winning a shootout. Players and coaches may not feel the same way, but frankly that's their problem and not mine. I'm here for the sexy stuff.

The Rangers and Bruins finished regulation tied at one. It was not a particularly good game to that point; New York hadn't played in two weeks and looked it, and Boston was missing Patrice Bergeron with a suspected concussion and Brad Marchand to a suspension. In overtime, Rangers netminder Igor Shesterkin was involved in a collision, which the league-mandated concussion spotter flagged—but only after play had continued for a while and Shesterkin had made several nice saves. With 41 seconds left in the extra frame, Shesterkin was pulled against his will. He, like all goalies, has a little bit of psychopath in him, and he made his frustrations known. (I enjoy the little crowd roar when he takes a swing at the glass.)

Shesterkin, an overwhelming Vezina favorite and nice boy, admitted that he "lost control" and promised that it won't happen again. He said he had to take a brief exam to be cleared, which he found silly, and thought the timing of his yank was absurd. It was, though I'm pretty OK with the concussion protocols erring on the side of overprotectiveness instead of laxity. What it meant in practical terms was that Shesterkin returned to the ice just in time for the shootout. "When I came out," he said, "the stands just gave me so much energy that I couldn’t do anything else but save the game.”

That's standard self-motivational stuff, but there were strategic knock-on effects too. The Bruins' book on Shesterkin apparently differs than their scouting on ice-cold backup Alexandar Georgiev. As head coach Bruce Cassidy explained it, goalie coach Bob Essensa, who picks the players for the shooutout, "might tilt toward a shooter over a deker depending on which [goalie] was in … to be honest with you, we were expecting [Georgiev] to stay in. So we picked our first three guys. That probably wasn’t going to change a lot, but it does influence who we picked later.”

So, what we got was a nine-round shootout, and the drama and contrast is best experienced by watching the whole thing, because the theme of the marathon was
(and I'm only exaggerating a little) every Bruins skater unimaginatively firing pucks straight off Shesterkin's glove, followed by every Rangers skater trying the craziest stuff you've ever seen.

If you don't have 10 minutes to watch it—I get it, we're all very busy—please enjoy just the highlights of the highlights. Mika Zibanejad with a move that was filthy but relatively staid compared to what would come later:

Artemi Panarin with a staggering, spasming approach that fully and understandably froze Jeremy Swayman:

Chris Kreider with the cheeky "Kucherov" attempt, which is entirely intentional even if it looks like a flub, and even if it didn't work, I appreciate the chutzpah:

Still, Swayman was very good, and the Bruins' shooters were very boring, so things chugged along into the ninth round with a winner yet to be decided. It began to feel just a little bit like 2005, and the epic 15-round Rangers-Caps shootout ended on a circus shot from hulking, stay-at-home defenseman Marek Malik, maybe the single least likely dude to pull off a shot like that.

K'Andre Miller is not Marik Malik. The 22-year-old blueliner has some pop, can skate, and in fact was a forward until high school. Which is not to say that Miller was champing at the bit to take his turn. But options were dwindling.

“No, definitely not,” Miller said when asked if he had volunteered to shoot. “Coach kind of turned to me when their guy was up, and I was like, ‘Really? Like, you want me to go? Am I hearing this right?'"

Miller said he only decided on his move when he took the puck at center ice, and nearly blew it by losing control as he skated in. But he recovered, regathered, and sent everyone home with a deceptively confident, lethal fake-and-deke.

I am but a humble blogger. The workings of the universe are as unknowable to me as the operation of an airliner is to a nematode. It would be be presumptuous of me to believe that the Rangers were karmically rewarded with a point because they "got weird" on their attempts, even the unsuccessful ones, and the Bruins punished because they did not. I merely raise it as a hypothesis. Further research is needed.

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