Earning Capital Gains : One-on-One’s More Fun

Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

By Charlie O’Connor (@THG_Charlie)

As the final seconds ticked away in overtime, a collective groan echoed throughout the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

The fans knew what was on the horizon. The dreaded shootout.

Hockey purists take issue with the shootout due to its gimmicky, skills-competition nature. But in Philadelphia, the antipathy from the fanbase is mostly due to the struggles of the beloved Flyers in the breakaway contest.

Entering tonight’s game against the Washington Capitals, the Flyers were a miserable 22-40 in games decided by shootout since its implementation after the lockout, and 3-6 on the season.

Two goals by Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds, however, and their season record in the shootout moved to a more respectable 4-6.

The turnaround actually began in late January.

After dropping their third straight shootout of the season on January 22nd against the Boston Bruins, the Flyers faced yet another scoreless overtime two days later, in Florida. But this time, a goal by Claude Giroux and big saves from goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov gave Philadelphia their long awaited first shootout victory of the year.

Giroux had been a bright spot even as the Flyers were unable to win shootouts. He was one for two on shootout attempts preceding the Florida victory. Bryzgalov, on the other hand, had struggled mightily.

In two shootout appearances against Colorado and Boston, Bryzgalov failed to stop even one shot, allowing five goals on five shots.

But since the loss to Boston on January 22nd, Bryzgalov has performed respectably in the shootout, stopping 15 of 23 shots, including three against Washington. Just as the netminder has turned around his play during regulation and overtime play, posting a 0.928 save percentage in this calendar year, he has drastically improved his performance in the shootout as well.

Peter Laviolette pointed to one game in particular as the starting point of his goaltender’s shootout success.

“It goes back to that Calgary game [on February 25th], I don’t know how long ago that was, 40 days or so, and he came up and we got big points out of there, and from there he seemed to really catch fire. I think there is a tremendous amount of confidence right now in our goaltender.”

But Bryzgalov is not the only reason for the Flyers’ newfound shootout success.

Giroux’s shootout abilities are undeniable. But this season, Flyers have lacked a second scoring option behind Giroux, particularly with the loss of Mike Richards to trade and Daniel Briere’s season-long struggles.

Enter Matt Read.

Laviolette used Read in a December shootout against the Colorado Avalanche, and Read fooled goalie Sergei Varlamov, only to fire a shot off the left post. He also failed to capitalize as the first shooter against Boston on January 22nd.

Read was then left on the bench for three straight shootouts, and may have never found his way back into the rotation if a February 25th game against the Calgary Flames did not need two extra shootout rounds to decide a victor. Read was given another chance in the fifth round, beating Miikka Kiprusoff and giving the Flyers the win.

He was placed back in the leadoff spot against Boston on March 17th, and this time, he did not disappoint, fooling Tim Thomas. With his goal tonight against Braden Holtby and the Capitals, Read has now scored in three straight shootout appearances, giving the Flyers a legitimate #2 option behind the slick Claude Giroux.

“[Shootouts] are big points,” Giroux admitted after the game. “Throughout the year there were a lot of points we let go beside us.  The last few months we did a pretty good job and we’re scoring goals too, so I think that’s the most important thing.”

With their victory tonight, the Flyers have now emerged victorious in three out of their last four shootouts, with the loss to Boston the lone blemish on their record.

Whether it be stronger goaltending, better secondary scoring, or simply regression to the mean, Flyers fans should start feeling a bit more confident when the buzzer sounds to conclude an overtime.

Their favorite team may be starting to figure out the shootout. Finally.

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