Love 'em or hate 'em, shootouts have become an integral part of today's NHL.
Since its introduction in the 2005-06 season, the shootout has been required to decide the fate of more than 1,000 games; this season alone, 142 games (equivalent to 14 per cent) have gone the distance.
While the difference between winning and losing via penalty shots may only be a single point in the overall standings, those single points can add up - just ask the Toronto Maple Leafs or the New Jersey Devils. Without their nine shootout wins (9-4), the Leafs - who currently sit in third place in the Eastern Conference - would be out of the playoff picture; on the other hand, if the 11th-place Devils had won even a few of their shootouts to this point (0-8), they would be in a much better position to make the postseason.
When it comes to success in shootouts, it is easy - natural, even - to focus on the player with the fate of the game resting on the blade of his stick. To celebrate the shooters when they score and blame them when they miss. But as the old saying goes, It Takes Two To Tango - and the players protecting the nets are just as important as the players bearing down on them.
While some goalies have been called upon more than others (Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks has been the busiest shootout goalie in the NHL, facing 43 shooters in 12 games), each and every shootout is an opportunity to steal that sacred extra point and move their team up in the standings. And while some tenders crumble beneath the pressure, others rise to the challenge. Based on save percentage, here are the top 10 shootout goalies in the NHL this season.
Note: Although some goalies remain perfect in shootouts this season (Martin Jones of the Los Angeles Kings has stopped all 12 shots he's faced; Alex Stalock of the Sharks is 10/10; Thomas Greiss of the Phoenix Coyotes is 5/5; Dan Ellis of the Florida Panthers is 3/3; and Jeff Zatkoff of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Jason LaBarbera of the Chicago Blackhawks are 2/2), this list is restricted to those who have faced a minimum of 20 shooters.
8 T-9. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins: .714 save percentage
Of all the teams in the NHL, the Bruins have played in the second fewest number of shootouts - only five through 67 games. Rask has been sharp when he's needed to be, though, turning away 15 of the 21 shooters he's faced. His career save percentage in shootouts is .687 (68 saves on 99 shots), with a record of 14-12.
7 T-9. Jaroslav Halak, Washington Capitals: .714 save percentage
Playing in St. Louis for much of the season, Halak had the luxury of playing behind shootout phenoms like T.J. Oshie (8/11) and Alexander Steen (5/9), who have helped carry the Blues to a shootout record of 8-3. That's not to say Halak didn't do his part, however; in six shootouts (4-2) with the Blues, he made 15 saves while allowing only six goals. He has yet to play in a shootout as a member of the Washington Capitals, but given the team's history, it's only a matter of time - the Caps have gone to a shootout a league-high 15 times (8-7) in 68 games this season.
6 Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers: .727 save percentage
While Luongo holds the unfortunate distinction of allowing the most shootout goals in NHL history (85), he was putting up decent shootout numbers with the Vancouver Canucks before they shipped him to Florida at the trade deadline: in six appearances (2-4), he allowed only six goals on 22 shots. This is well above his career shootout save percentage of .672.
7. Ryan Miller, St. Louis Blues: .730 save percentage
When Miller replaced Halak as the Blues' starting goaltender at the trade deadline, he brought with him a ton of shootout experience. In his 10-plus seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, Miller appeared in a total of 79 shootouts, going 49-30 with a career save percentage of .708 (81 goals against on 277 shots). His numbers this season have been even better, stopping 27 of 37 shots faced en route to a 6-3 record. While he has yet to play in a shootout with the Blues, he has gotten off to an impressive 5-0-1 start.
5 Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars: .741 save percentage
While Lehtonen has performed admirably in shootouts this season, the same can not be said for the Dallas Stars' offense; despite Lehtonen turning away 20 of the 27 shooters he's faced, he only has a 2-4 record to show for it. Currently tied for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with only 16 games remaining, the Stars' postseason hopes may just come down to how well Lehtonen and his teammates perform in future shootouts.
4 Reto Berra, Colorado Avalanche: .762 save percentage
Berra may have never appeared in an NHL shootout entering the 2013/14 season, but the 27-year-old has held his own. In four shootouts with the Calgary Flames, Berra went 4-0, allowing only five goals on 21 shots. Not bad for a goalie on a team that has struggled to keep the puck out of its net all season long. Berra has yet to make his shootout debut as a member of the Colorado Avalanche.
3 Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins: .773 save percentage
While Fleury's consistency has been questioned throughout his career, the 29-year-old has proven season after season that he's one of the best in the game when it comes to the shootout - and this season is no different. In six shootouts with the Penguins, Fleury has gone 4-2, allowing only five goals on 22 shots. His career numbers are equally impressive: 43-19 with a save percentage of .764 (47 goals against on 199 shots).
2 Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning: .778 save percentage
Of all the goalies in the NHL, Bishop has been the fifth busiest when it comes to shootouts, facing a total of 36 shots in 10 games. Fortunately for the Lightning, the 27-year-old has been solid, turning away 28 of those shots for a .778 save percentage. Unfortunately for the Lightning, their shooters have struggled on their own attempts, clicking at a rate of only 25 per cent and resulting in a 5-5 record for Bishop. For a team hovering around the playoff bubble, those lost points could end up being costly down the stretch.
2. Tim Thomas, Dallas Stars: .793 save percentage
His style may a little bit unorthodox, but the 39-year-old Thomas has made a career of making big stops when it matters most. In eight shootouts this season (seven with the Florida Panthers and one with the Dallas Stars), Thomas has turned away 23 of the 29 shooters he's faced, going 6-2 in the process. Over the course of his career, Thomas has a record of 36-30 with a save percentage of .726.
1 Eddie Lack, Vancouver Canucks: .840 save percentage
While the 2013/14 season has been full of disappointment for Canucks fans, one bright spot has been the play of 26-year-old Lack - particularly in shootouts. With no NHL shootout experience entering this season, Lack has stepped in and stopped 21 of the 25 shots he's faced. Despite his success, however, Vancouver has struggled to score on its own attempts (8 goals on 50 shots, the second-worst shootout percentage in the NHL) resulting in a 3-3 record for Lack - and 5-7 for the Canucks overall.