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Endangered shootouts

NHL GMs vote to recommend a change to overtime to include 3-on-3 play as a way to reduce the number of shootouts.


- Aside from maybe the New York Rangers, who missed the Stanley Cup playoffs because of it in 2010, no team in the NHL has hated the shootout more than the Flyers.

Now, after a decade of torture, the rest of the other 28 teams have had enough.

At the NHL's general managers meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., yesterday, the 30 executives voted to recommend a change to overtime to include three-on-three play as a way to reduce the number of shootouts deciding games.

Last March, the GMs tried a different tweak - switching ends to induce a long line change in the hope of ending games - but it resulted in only 0.8 percent fewer shootouts this season.

"Considering our record, yep, it might help us," coach Craig Berube said, all for the change. "I think it'd be exciting, for sure, to get to three-on-three. You've got some real skilled guys out there with open ice, it could make for some fun hockey."

The Flyers are 3-9 in shootouts this season, leaving nine points on the table. They entered last night's game 10 points back of the Bruins for the final wild-card spot. The Flyers haven't played consistently enough to be a playoff team, but even just a few more wins in shootouts would have kept them in the hunt much longer.

Since 2005, the Flyers have the league's worst record (30-60) in shootouts. They are 27th in shooting percentage (.284) and by far dead last in save percentage (.578).

The NHL has not yet decided how it will implement the changes for next season. The next step is tinkering on the joint NHL/NHLPA competition committee. Flyers chairman Ed Snider is the only owner represented on the 10-person committee. After that, it would go to the league's board of governors for official rule-change approval.

One model is to mimic the AHL, which plays with a 4-minute four-on-four session to start, then flips to three-on-three for the final 3 minutes after a stoppage. With that change, the AHL has cut down on shootouts by 40 percent. Another option is to simply start overtime directly with three-on-three and play the regular 5 minutes, a setup that's been used in Sweden.

Entering last night, 257 games out of 1,040 (25 percent) went to overtime. Only 110 of those (43 percent) were solved in overtime; 57 percent requiring a shootout.

"I think three-on-three is a really good idea," Vinny Lecavalier said. "You want to make it more of a team effort. But they've got to figure out the format and the minutes. I think they'll do the right thing."

Adding 2 minutes to overtime might not seem like a big deal, but it will add mileage to top players. Lecavalier pointed out Ottawa's Erik Karlsson - their last opponent - and said he'd be on the ice for the entire three-on-three portion. He would play most of OT.

"The thing you've got to remember is only a few of the guys on the team are involved," Luke Schenn said. "If you go to overtime in back-to-back nights or three games in four nights, it would be a lot. You're not playing the whole team in that situation."

Forward Nick Cousins, who made his NHL debut last night playing with Ryan White and Zac Rinaldo, said the Phantoms went to three-on-three in his last game there Saturday in Bridgeport, Conn., before he was called up.

"It's fun to watch, it's fun to play," Cousins said. "It's fun to be a part of, too, when you're out there. It definitely gets rid of shootouts, which is what they're trying to do."

The other recommendations GMs made yesterday was a coach's challenge system solely for goaltender-interference penalties and delay-of-game penalties for pucks over the glass. A coach will only be able to challenge goaltender interference if a goal is scored and he has a timeout. Those situations don't pop up nearly as often as the skills competition.

The shootout hasn't died yet, but the slow march has begun. And the Flyers are cheering.

"That's something we need to be better with in this organization - from the goalies on out," goalie Steve Mason said. "But if they totally got rid of it and had games ending in team play, I think that's better for the game."

Mason's knee

Steve Mason was back in net last night, making his 40th start of the season. He said he appreciated a night off on Sunday in Ottawa, which would have been his ninth start in a row.

After surgery was performed on Feb. 10 to remove 60 percent of the meniscus in his right knee, Mason said it might take until the summer to be fully healed.

"Just to have a stretch of at least a week where everything can just heal up," Mason said. "Really, the knee just hasn't had an opportunity to heal completely. It definitely didn't feel good the first time we had back-to-back games in New Jersey. It was just good to have the last day-and-a-half to recharge - the knee hasn't hindered me, but it still hasn't gotten to the point where it's pain-free."