Along with coach’s challenges, the most noticeable new wrinkle in the NHL this season is the debut of 3-on-3 overtimes meant to decrease the number of games that go to a shootout. We saw its regular-season debut in last night’s 3-2 Lightning win over the Flyers, and it looked a lot like it did in its test runs in the AHL and the preseason: end-to-end action, heartstopping chances, and a goal less than halfway through the period. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot of fun.
Here’s the entire overtime period:
• The Lightning get two great chances just 22 seconds in, as Alex Killorn feeds a pass to Anton Stralman in front that would have never gotten through without such wide-open ice.
• The sequence from about 1:20 of the video until 1:37 is exhausting, with a Flyers rush turning into a Lightning 2-on-0, followed by some nifty passing to set up a second great look for Nikita Kucherov that was deflected wide. You’re going to see an awful lot of this in 3-on-3: any team that gets an odd-man rush necessarily sets itself up to give one up the other way.
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol spoke about his team “[trying] a little too hard to make things happen,” which resulted in allowing odd-man rushes. It’s going to take players and teams a while to figure out their new overtime strategies—does the possible reward of a third man jumping in on a rush outweigh the risk? It’ll be interesting to see if some teams emerge as consistently more conservative than others.
• At 1:55 of the video, Scott Laughton outskates two Lightning for a breakaway—and is slashed by Tyler Johnson, earning a penalty shot. There should be a ton of OT penalty shots this season, as beaten defenders resort to taking skaters down from behind.
• The game-ending sequence begins at about 4:07 of the video, with some puck battles along the boards in Tampa’s zone that tempted Philly’s last man back, Jakub Voracek, into pinching up a bit too far. A couple of lateral touches later and Jason Garrison was off to the races for the breakaway winner. With so little margin for error in 3-on-3, it’s going to be little mistakes and poor decisions like Voracek’s that cost teams the game.
It will not surprise you that goalies seem to dislike 3-on-3.
“Personally, I don’t think it’s fair,” said Ben Bishop, the winning goalie of the new format. “One breakaway, then another breakaway. I think the shootout, it’s fair both ways. This is going to be a little bit more of a gong show.”
That’s a valid argument, but if you’re a fan who likes chances, you’ll like 3-on-3. Last night the overtime saw eight shots on goal in just 2:17 of action. To put it another way, 14 percent of the game’s SOGs came in just 3.7 percent of the game’s icetime.
That won’t be an aberration. In the preseason, roughly 75 percent of overtime games ended before going to a shootout, and the winning goal came in an average of under three minutes.
I’m reserving judgment on whether 3-on-3 OT is “better” or more fair than the old way—though my instinct is that it is at least more natural, because it relies heavily on speedy defensemen, faceoff takers, and phlegmatic goalies (all important elements of real gameplay) rather than on breakaway specialists—but it’s undeniably more fun. Considering how unloved the shootout is, I think fun alone is a good enough reason to change.