I'll begin this post by clearly stating that I do not like the shootout and I have never liked the shootout. It does not seem fair to have teams play 65 minutes of hockey to have individuals decide the game and which team gets the extra point. I was adamant that I didn't like it when it was instituted and I'm just as adamant now. Sabres have fans have never really complained about the shootout but now it's different, it's personal. The Sabres nine game winless streak continues and five of those losses have come in a shootout. Ironically enough the Sabres last victory was a shootout win over the Flyers on December 22.
We should not discount the Sabres difficult schedule over this stretch of games but it is hard to discount their failure in the shootout. In this winless streak the New Jersey Devils have beaten the Sabres three times in a shootout, the Senators once and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat them in the Winter Classic. The Devils and Penguins are tied for the top spot in the Atlantic Division and the Senators are on top of the entire Eastern Conference. In most cases teams would be happy to get five points against those opponents but it is the consecutive losses that are frustrating for the Sabres and their fans.
Sabres fans have been spoiled by a team that has been successful in shootouts, the failure this season is hard to get accustomed to. Last season the Sabres were 10-4 in their 14 shootouts but this season they are 1-5. In six shootout appearances they have already eclipsed last seasons loss total of four. It was probably an impossible feat to repeat the success they had last season but they have fallen well below standards. The goalies last year stopped 37 of 46 attempts and the shooters converted on 17 of 47 shots. This year they fall below that with goalies stopping 11 of 20 attempts and the shooters converting 4 of 19 shots.
Ryan Miller was once considered one of the best shootout goaltenders at one point and this year he is beyond beatable. Miller has stopped only seven of 14 attempts and could be blamed as the main reason the Sabres have struggled in shootouts. Miller could be blamed but that would be unfair because the shooters have to score in order to win a shootout. The only shooter who has been consistent to this point is Ales Kotalik who is 3-for-6 on his attempts. The only other Sabre to score a goal is Thomas Vanek when he was the fourth shooter against the Ottawa Senators.
There are people who are blaming Lindy Ruff for his choice of shooters as well. I don't think the criticism is warranted because Lindy is trying to find something that works. It's easy to say that if Vanek was one of the first three shooters against the Senators they probably would have won but Vanek was 2-for-11 last season and 0-for-2 this year before that game. Ruff decided to play the odds and put Drew Stafford (2-for-3 last year) and Jason Pominville ahead of Vanek. The end result was a Sabres loss just like the other games. If I was a betting man I would guess that the Sabres will be spending time practicing shootouts because they have been extremely important to this team recently. It would be a shame if the Sabres missed the playoffs because of their failure to win on shootouts.