- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. — Braden Holtby and all goaltenders know that in a shootout, the cardinal rule is to force the shooter to make the first move. Stay in position and don’t get fooled.

Goalies facing Washington Capitals forward Matt Hendricks in the shootout don’t seem to be able to follow that. He’s no offensive dynamo, but he’s 5-for-6 in the valuable skills competition this season and 8-for-12 during his NHL career.

Among players with at least three shootout goals, Hendricks is the only one in the league with more there than in game action (four). Despite that distinction, his shootout prowess is still one of the best-kept secrets around.

“He’s unbelievable, he’s using the same move and it’s worked,” Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth said. “I’m just surprised that goalies haven’t figured it out yet.”

So are the goalies who Hendricks makes look downright silly. The best example came last week in Boston, when he made last year’s Vezina Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup winner, Tim Thomas, actually fall during his shootout attempt. Puck into empty net easily.

“I bit on his fake shot and heel picked,” Thomas said, “and it was ugly.”

Or gorgeous for Caps fans who watched the attempt over and over. Teammates took to Twitter to praise Hendricks; Joel Ward even compared the move to Allen Iverson crossing over on then-Wizards guard Antonio Daniels in 2006.

“I was thinking, ‘Well maybe Thomas has seen some video on it just because the previous two [times] it worked so well.’ But apparently they hadn’t caught onto it yet,” forward Jay Beagle said. “The move gives him a lot of options, too, he can go either left or right. So I think even if they do watch video on it and stuff, it’s still going to be tricky to try and stop that.”

Hendricks‘ “move” includes a head fake that makes it look like he might be trying to fire a wrist shot. When the goalie flinches one way or another, Hendricks quickly reacts and goes the other way. More often than not, it’s an easy tap-in.

“Let’s not talk about shootouts,” Hendricks said. “No more attention to it.”

The 30-year-old would prefer to remain a secret weapon in the shootout, even though that’s impossible now after what he did to Thomas wound up on “SportsCenter’s” top 10 plays highlight reel. Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens, he tried the move against Peter Budaj, who froze.

“I played with him in Denver,” Hendricks said. “He knew what I was doing the whole time.”

Except Hendricks still managed to score. That’s how good his move really is.

Neuvirth said Hendricks scored on him in practice last season with that move, but now it’s no longer a surprise. Braden Holtby is still getting used to it and called it “a pretty filthy move.”

“He sells it really well. I’m not really sure how he does it, if he flexes his stick and just doesn’t release it, I’m not really sure,” Holtby said. “But he comes in with a lot of speed and sells the shot pretty well and then just somehow controls the puck and then a wide-open net.”

Holtby said he used to study opposing players’ shootout tendencies but stopped when it made him think too much. He and many other goalies around the league rely on instinct, not knowing a guy’s textbook move.

Except, Neuvirth said, for “top shooters,” as the Caps’ goalies watch video of them before games. Now Hendricks probably counts among those when other teams check the tape.

“He’s scored like that so many times that it’s surprising that other goalies still haven’t figured it out,” Neuvirth said. “At some point, one game, it’s just not going to work.”

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