Practical Concerns: Ovechkin, Boyes And The Perfect Shootout Move

Why is Alex Ovechkin so bad in the shootout?

Why is Brad Boyes so good in the shootout?

Is there such as thing as the perfect shootout move? (the answer could be yes, so read on)

***

A while ago, Steve Ness took the time to watch every single NHL shootout attempt between 2012 and 2015, and came to some interesting findings.

By Ness’ count, 32% of shootout attempts are converted, which is interesting if we look at the following two screencaps:

ovie

boyes.png

Alex Ovechkin is one of the greatest goal scorers in the history of hockey. The Russian skates faster, shoots harder and has better stickhandling abilities than Boyes, so what gives?

Success Factors

Fewer than 14% of NHL regular-season games go to a shootout – that number will only decrease with the advent of 3vs3 overtime. Very few skaters will take enough shootout attempts to build up a sufficient sample size for rigorous quantitative analysis.

For most, luck will trump process when it comes to shootout results, and the differences between a penalty shot in hockey and in soccer make the former much more difficult to boil down to a science than the latter.

Still, in the excellent soccer book Twelve Yards, the author suggests that it is indeed possible to improve a player’s penalty-taking skills by taking into account “success factors” – what tends to work for others in the past – while avoiding habits which appear to cause more misses than the statistical baseline.

Essentially, Ovechkin underachieves because he relies on volume to score his goals, and does not have an effective strategy when it comes to one-shot situations, while specialists such as Boyes have a clear plan when it comes to the post-game skills contest.

Success Factor 1: Engineer Predictability

I’ve already written about the importance of predictability in a piece devoted to the exploits of two other shootout overachievers: P-A Parenteau and Radim Vrbata.

While it is often assumed that “mixing things up” and “keeping the goalie on his toes” will allow a player to score more often, Vrbata, Parenteau and Boyes demonstrate that, in certain ways, the opposite is true.

All three players have managed to consistently post above-average results by having just one or two simple, well-practiced moves in their arsenal.

The “Vrbata”

Fake shot forehand, backhand shelf


The “Parenteau”

Fake forehand shot short side, forehand shot far side

And now:

The “Boyes”

Drag backhand side,  deke forehand far side

That goal was back in 2011, but here he is with the exact same move in 2013, 2009 and 2007

Predictability: It’s good to make things tough for the goalie, but it’s even better to make things simple for yourself.

Success Factor 2: Establish the Five-Hole

T.J. Oshie is the king of the shootout, scoring at a clip of over 50% since breaking into the league. A lot is made of his trademark run-up, where he comes in slow and take a weave before using his quick hands to make goalies look silly.

Here’s a look at the career shootout goals of Boyes’ former St. Louis teammate:


Note that, on his first two goals, he scored with a variation of the “Boyes” move, before simply stepping up and snapping it five-hole on a helpless Roberto Luongo. (Sidebar: Luongo has been known to study the video of opposing shooters, and Vrbata also made him look silly once by changing up from his usual move)

For the rest of the clip, Oshie sticks more of less with the same slow, winding run-up (in line with Success Factor 1). This consistent approach gives him three shooting options by the time he gets to the hashmarks, which makes the five-hole shot an option that is tough for goalies to anticipate.

Other NHL shooters who frequently target the five-hole, such as Gustav Nyquist, do it in a less optimal manner. It looks great when it works (DET vs. MIN), but when the goalie knows it is coming, they can’t make a late adjustment or find another shooting solution (DET vs. WSH).

Success Factor 3: Use The Backhand

Justin Bourne, who played at a far higher level of hockey than I ever did and who now works for the Maples Leafs organization, wrote about the effectiveness of the forehand fake, backhand shelf move before leaving the media business.

This Patrick Kane shootout goal is replayed from the back perspective, and shows why the backhand shelf is so effective. Note the position of the puck in relation to Kane’s skates.

Lateral puck movement is the key to scoring, whether in open play or on a penalty shot.

Here, Kane has the puck outside of his left skate. Lehtonen squares up to the puck to take away the forehand shot, but is caught flat-footed when Kane moves the puck to the outside of his right skate and immediately shelfs it.

It takes a lot of skill to make that quick stickhandling move without losing the puck, but going forehand-backhand changes the release location of the shot by six to eight feet, and is the best way to open up the net. This is evidenced by Ness’ findings, which suggest that dekes are more effective than shots (33.3% to 30.6%), and backhands are more effective and wristers (33.4% to 29.7%)

Summarizing Success Factors

Identifying the key success factors allows us to get an idea of what kind of move we’d want to develop. Here’s my checklist:

  1. The run-up should simple and always the same, as to not tip off my intentions before I get into a shooting position.
  2. I want to be able to go five-hole quickly to surprise a goalie and/or in case I am too nervous to make a complex move.
  3. The availability of the five-hole should not compromise the possibility of going either forehand shelf or backhand shelf.
  4. I want to be able to move the puck from outside my left skate to outside my right skate (or vice-versa) before releasing a shot, as to make the goalie move laterally.

There exists a specific move which checks all of these boxes while being simple enough for even a beer league player to execute with consistency. Here’s how to do it:

“The Reverse Trident”

  1. Take the puck at center ice and skate in at medium speed right down the middle of the ice. Righties can be a bit off-center toward the left wing, while the opposite goes for lefties.
  2. This is the “Secret Sauce”: As you hit the blueline, assume the following position, where you are carrying the puck on your backhand sideoutside of your non-dominant foot (left foot for righties, and right foot for lefties). This position will give you three clear shooting options later, and you won’t risk losing the puck on your backhand going laterally at the last moment.ward
  3. As you approach the hashmarks, this is where your personal judgment comes in. You’ll have 3 options
    1. If the goalie is tall/far out of his crease/very upright, move the puck in front of your dominant foot and shoot a forehand wrist shot five-hole. If you hit it into the area s/he is not covering, it will be a goal since s/he won’t be able to drop down fast enough.
    2. If the goalie is committed to the near side post (which he will be if he is overly squared to the puck, by virtue of your “strange” run-up position), twitch your top hand by rotating your wrist. This will cause the goalie to flinch, as s/he’ll subconsciously interpret it as an upcoming backhand shot attempt. Then move the puck outside your dominant foot and shoot inside the far post.
    3. If you have already scored on this goalie with the previous two moves and want to use a change-up, or if you are just feeling especially cheeky, then fake the backhand shot, move the puck outside of your dominant footfake the forehand shot, then come back outside your non-dominant foot for the backhand shelf.
    4. If the goalie rushes out for a poke check, just chip the puck over him on your backhand, since he’ll have to go through both of your skate before getting to the puck. Be careful that he doesn’t trip you into the end boards. At least you’re not going full-speed.

Let me know in the comment section or on Twitter if my explanations are unclear. I’ve had great success with this move against CIS and Midget AAA goalies, but have yet to see anyone try this on an NHL goalie, so it’d be cool if someone (*cough* Brad Boyes *cough*) could give it a go.

***

Jack Han is the Video & Analytics Coordinator for the McGill Martlet Hockey team. He also writes occasionally about the NHL for Habs Eyes on the Prize. You can find him on Twitter or on the ice at McConnell Arena.

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