The Washington Capitals were the last team in the NHL to participate in a shootout last season, making it to Game No. 32 before having to endure the game-deciding skills competition.
This season, however, they cannot seem to escape the shootout, with exactly one-third of their games thus far (11 of 33) needing more than 65 minutes to complete. Each of Washington's last three games have gone to a shootout, setting a franchise record for consecutive appearances.
The Capitals also set the franchise record for most shootout victories in a single season with eight after their most recent decision, a 5-4 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. (The franchise record for most shootout appearances in a season is 13, set in 2005-06, the concept's first season.)
"I usually have one play in my head that I'd like to do and come down and take a look," said forward Eric Fehr, who is a perfect 5-for-5 in shootouts this season, just one of six players with an unblemished record in at least three attempts. "If I don't see it there, I switch up and go through a few different options."
According to Fehr, he watches opposing goaltenders closely throughout the game, studying their tendencies and storing them for future reference in case of a shootout, but despite his personal success, he admitted that he is not a fan of the concept.
"To be honest, I don't really like the shootouts," Fehr said, adding that he feels that shootouts are too individual and take away from the team aspect. "I wish we didn't have shootouts in the game. I wish we'd go into 4-on-4 a little longer, 3-on-3 or something, but as long as they're there, we've got to find a way to win them and get the points."
There is an obvious caveat to the Capitals' shootout prowess: there are none in the postseason, when games go into sudden-death overtime until a winner is decided.
Also, Washington only has eight regulation victories, and its 10 combined regulation and overtime wins -- which play a significant role in the NHL's tiebreaking procedure -- rank 13th in the Eastern Conference and 26th in the NHL ahead of only the four worst teams in the league: the Florida Panthers, Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres.
"It's an easier way to get points in the regular season, but come playoff time, we don't get those, so it's a little bit weird that we have two different scenarios for different parts of the season," Fehr said. "But that's just the way it is."
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