The first year of 3-on-3 overtime has been a boon to the NHL, both in terms of excitement and in avoiding shootouts. But the heady early days of end-to-end action and goals aplenty have gradually given way to something slightly more sedate. Which doesn’t mean it’s still not better than the old way.
USA Today ran the numbers, and they’re significant.
Since Jan. 1, 46% (49-of-106) of games tied after regulation have gone to a shootout. In the first three months of the season, 34% (44-of-129) of regulation ties ended in a shootout.
“I think teams are learning the quirks of playing 3 on 3,” said Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler. “You see more teams controlling the puck, and not taking chances unless they have a really, really high (percentage) scoring chance.”
You had to assume this would happen—the novelty of the thing meant teams would have to suss out strategies as they went along, and in the first few months, that made for nonstop odd-man rushes after just about any giveaway. A few teams were well-suited to the chaos, but with experience has come prudence. Anecdotally, I feel like I’ve seen fewer teams send a second skater in deep, fearful of giving up a chance the other way.
But even with an increase in caution, more ice means more goals than we were getting in 4-on-4. Even the higher recent number, 46 percent of overtime games going to a shootout since the beginning of the calendar year, is far surpassed by the 58 percent that required a shootout last season.
So 3-on-3 isn’t quite the fever-dream explosion it appeared at first blush, but that’s cool. It’s turning out to be a little closer to what we consider “normal” hockey, perhaps quieting a bit of its most common criticism. I can live with this.