- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 20, 2015

T.J. Oshie conceded that the vast number of skilled players will provide plenty of excitement during the NHL’s new three-on-three overtime format, but he did find one drawback with the arrangement when it was announced in June.

“Not a lot of them are going to go to shootouts, which is unfortunate,” Oshie said, smiling. “But, I think it’s going to be fun to watch.”

Oshie, acquired by the Washington Capitals in a trade with the St. Louis Blues in July, became a sensation during the Sochi Olympics in 2014 when he took six of the United States’ eight shootout attempts in a preliminary round victory over Russia.

His affinity for that aspect of the game, though, was wholly unmatched. Although the league adopted the shootout beginning with the 2005-06 season, hoping that it could prolong the excitement of a tie game, it has since been routinely criticized for serving as a gimmicky way to force a result.

Rather than remove the shootout completely, though, the league lifted the three-on-three format from the AHL, which installed a modified overtime procedure at the start of last season. In the minor league, teams played standard four-on-four overtime for three minutes, then could play up to four additional minutes of three-on-three before proceeding to a shootout.

The drop was remarkable. Although 174 games ended in a shootout in 2013-14, just 77 finished that way last season. No team participated in more than eight shootouts last year; the season before, one team ended 20 of its 76 games in a shootout.

Under the new format, no team will be able to have fewer than three skaters on the ice at any point. Rather, if a minor penalty is assessed during overtime, that team’s opponent will gain an extra skater, though no team will be allowed more than five skaters on the ice at any time.

And, if a team were to pull its goaltender for an extra skater during the overtime period — except in the case of a delayed penalty — it could potentially forfeit the one point it earned in the standings by advancing through regulation.

“It’ll be an adjustment,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “It’ll make for some exciting hockey, for sure. It’ll be fun, a new challenge. I think we’re fairly well set up for it, with, you know, our skill, our skating ability. I think we’ll have a good opportunity to get some extra points in there.”

To account for the difference, the NHL mandated last week that each team play a three-on-three overtime period in at least three of its preseason games regardless of the score at the end of regulation. For the Capitals, that first test will come quickly; their exhibition opener against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday will be played with the new overtime rules enforced.

“That [decision] was a response to club inquiries and requests over the summer, because I would say most coaches don’t spend a lot of practice time practicing three-on-three,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Canadian Press last week. “So, they want to kind of get a sense of how it operates [and] probably get some familiarity and comfort level with it before the regular season starts and they’re deciding games with it.”

Capitals coach Barry Trotz said the team had been preparing for such an adjustment, and he asked the coaching staff with the Hershey Bears, the Capitals’ AHL affiliate, to prepare to run through their three-on-three drills with all players during training camp. On Saturday, coaches worked through a variety of overtime scenarios and groupings during each of the three practice sessions.

It could take some time before teams are truly able to figure out how to best manage the period. Trotz said he’s already learned that long shifts will be implausible; he figures to employ two forwards and a defenseman and knows that changes will need to be well-orchestrated in order to avoid giving the opponent open ice and an advantage.

“A three-on-three shift is not like a four-on-four shift or a five-on-five shift,” Trotz said. “if guys think they’re going to have success three-on-three by staying out there and poaching, or, you know, being out there for 45, 50 seconds, they’re going to kill you. … If you go up and back, you can’t go back again, because if they get the puck, now you’ve got to come out, come back or you change, and it’s in your net.”

Last season, 170 games — roughly 14.5 percent of the entire schedule — were decided by a shootout. The Capitals played nine, winning five of them; two years ago, 21 of their games resulted in a shootout, which remains a league record.

Avoiding a glorified skills challenge and putting the result back in the hands of the team and coaches will make things more fair, Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. In some ways, the new format reminds him of how he’d play while growing up in Sweden, when players dreamed of scoring the game-winning goal.

“But then, you only play three-on-three in one zone,” Backstrom said. “You’ve got some more space now.”

• Zac Boyer can be reached at zboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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