The Closers: Who leads the NHL in shootout game-winners?

As you may know, the shootout isn't exactly high on my list ... OK, unless you're talking about this list. Its failings have been thoroughly discussed, its inadequacies debated; the only aspect of the skills competition we can probably all agree on is that it isn't going anywhere in the regular season any time soon.

So why don't we know more about its intricacies? For example: What constitutes a game-winning goal in the shootout? In this season's all-star game, Alexei Kovalev of the Montreal Canadiens scored first and Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals scored the final goal of a 2-0 shootout win for the Eastern Conference. Kovalev gets what the NHL calls the "game-deciding goal" even though Ovechkin's goal "clinched" the win.

Shootout stats are on the fringes of hockey analysis, despite being important enough to determine postseason positioning. Hell, most fantasy leagues don't even factor them into team scoring.

Shouldn't this change if the shootout is here to stay?

With that in mind, we decided to look at which players have the most game-deciding goals (GDG) in the shootout, using a sample of the last three seasons (2006-07 through this season). Some of the names may surprise you; like, for example, that Ales Kotalik of the Buffalo Sabres would pretty much win the Conn Smythe of shootouts. If, you know, there was such a thing. 

Based on the numbers from, here are the top eight most clutch shootout performers from 2006-2009:



Shooting %

Game-Deciding Goals

Ales Kotalik, Buffalo Sabres




Phil Kessel, Boston Bruins




Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils




Vyacheslav Kozlov, Atlanta Thrashers




Erik Christensen, Atlanta Thrashers




Brendan Shanahan, New Jersey Devils




Ales Hemsky, Edmonton Oilers




Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins




Other players who nearly made the chart in the three-year sample: Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks (28-5, 5 GDG); Miiko Koivu of the Minnesota Wild (24-9, 5); Saku Koivu of the Montreal Canadiens (25-11, 5); Martin Erat of the Nashville Predators (15-4, 4).

Again, this is just for the last two and a half seasons; back in 2005-06, Viktor Kozlov and Miroslav Satan led the League with five GDG. The leader in GDG this season is Kotalik with four; Nikolai Zherdev of the New York Rangers, Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings and Marek Svatos of the Colorado Avalanche each have three.

One thing that stood out in the numbers was how many players have had GDG account for nearly the entirety of their shootout success: Like Crosby, Shanahan and Kessel scoring game-winners on all but one of their goals.

In some cases, it's probably just a matter of playing the percentages to end up with a number of GDG; if Parise has 31 shootout chances, it's understandable that seven end up as game-winners. Factor in where a shooter typically appears in a team's lineup, and the percentages increase.

But if you have players like Christensen and Kotalik converting their shootout chances at nearly a 56-percent clip and scoring GDG along the way, there's no way you can't define them as absolutely clutch performers, right?

In the case of Kotalik, he may be the most clutch shootout performer in the gimmick's brief history: Scoring a record 10 GDG in the last four seasons, and ranking third all-time in shootout goals.

Now if only some of that mattered in my fantasy league ...

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