The NHL is getting its wish with three-on-three overtime.
Far fewer games have been settled in the shootout this season following the introduction of the new overtime format. In fact, the NHL is on track to have 36 per cent fewer shootouts from last season, from 170 a year ago to something approaching 109 this year.
Overtime is settling games at about a 61-per-cent clip this season, up substantially from the 44-per-cent mark of one year earlier and 42 per cent the year before that.
"The three-on-three has been entertaining, it has been exciting, it's been effective," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a recent interview. "And we still have the shootout, but it's probably made the shootout even more special because there are fewer of them.
"I think if you ask any of the managers and frankly, fans, it's had the intended effect and it's working the way we expected," Bettman added.
Count Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello among those pleased with three-on-three overtime.
Three seasons ago, Lamoriello's New Jersey Devils went 0-13 in the shootout, missing out on the post-season by a handful of points they could have gained with a few more victories in the sometimes random decider.
Too many games were going that route for the NHL's liking as teams increasingly sat back in overtime to force the shootout.
"I've always been one that didn't want the shootout to be as a deciding factor," Lamoriello said recently. "But the three-on-three has been exciting. I think it's something that people look forward to it."
Lamoriello believes coaching has increasingly affected the mostly free-flowing, fast-paced new version of overtime, but generally is satisfied with what's it's done for the game.
Players seem to agree, believing it to be a far more representative way for deciding games. Shootouts involve only a handful of players sporting their individual talents, while three-on-three overtime often features nearly everyone on the bench and some measure of teamwork.
"It's awesome," said Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Ryan Murray. "There's always scoring chances...five or six at least. Tons of 2-on-1s, tons of action, I think it's awesome."
There's more satisfaction to winning a game that way than there is to winning in a shootout, Murray added. Coaches often don't even consider a shootout loss as a loss at all, more like a tie.
The NHL previously decided overtime games with four players a side. It was thought that fewer players on the ice would create more open ice, more chances and more goals. So far, it's panned out.
Evidence of the change came on Tuesday night, when only one in four games tied after regulation went to the shootout.
"I think the shootouts, you just don't ever want to settle in a shootout," Murray said.
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press