What to make of Robin Lehner's shootout struggles and possible solutions


Robin Lehner is arguably the best goaltender in the NHL right now and unquestionably the Blackhawks’ MVP so far. He leads all netminders this season in save percentage (.938) and goals saved above average (13.7), according to Natural Stat Trick.

But his career shootout numbers are near the bottom of the league.

In fact, of the 104 goaltenders that have faced a minimum of 40 shots in the shootout for their career, Lehner ranks dead last with a .521 save percentage. He has an 8-22 record and has given up 45 goals on 94 shots.

In five shootout attempts this season, Lehner has been scored on all but one of them and went 0-for-2 in Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars despite turning aside 40 of 41 shots for a save percentage of .976 in 65 minutes of game action.

This is the same goalie who has the ninth-best save percentage in NHL history at .919. But the shootout is an area of the game he hasn't been able to figure out other than it goes against what he feels he's good at.

“My strength is reading the play," Lehner said. "My strength is reading what's going to happen and I can determine, 'I need to be set for a shot,' or, 'I need to be set for a deke.' That's what my good abilities are, in my opinion. I'm always ready — people don't beat me clean on shots, my clear shot save percentage over my career is up there with some of the best. My reading the game is my best ability, and in the shootout, I'm in an in-between the whole time. I can't determine if he's going to shoot or he's going to deke.

"They come in slow motion and they can do both, then I'm 50-50 instead of set doing one thing. Same with a breakaway. Breakaway comes in, I know by the hash marks if he's shooting or if he's deking — you can see the back pressure, you can see how fast he's coming, you can see how he has his stick, you know what's going to happen. You can't in a shootout: they come in on a side angle and they come in slow and they brake and they stop, I can't read it. It takes away the best part of me as a goalie, and that's just how it is."

One solution could be to substitute Lehner in the shootout portion for Corey Crawford, who has a 31-23 record in shootouts and a career save percentage of .719, which ranks 34th out of the 104 goaltenders with at least 40 attempts against.

But the only way the Blackhawks should consider it is if both goaltenders are on board before it happens. Head coach Jeremy Colliton said it’s not something they’ve discussed as a staff, but Lehner would be open to the possibility if the team felt it would improve the Blackhawks’ chances of winning.

"I just want to win, man," Lehner said. "I came here to help this team win. If I'm on the bench or on the ice, I just want us to make the playoffs. That's why I signed here. So if the coach feels that, he should definitely go for it. I definitely would not be mad. All the team, man. And I wouldn't take it personal because I know I'm a good hockey goalie."

Here’s another suggestion, which would require league rules to be altered again: Bring back ties. 

From an entertainment standpoint, nobody likes leaving a hockey game they just watched for two and a half hours end with no winner, but every point is crucial in today’s NHL and one point can be the difference between getting in and watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs from home.

After all, the Philadelphia Flyers secured a playoff berth in the final game of the 2009-10 season because the second point was decided by a shootout and they went on to reach the Stanley Cup Final to face none other than the Blackhawks.

Perhaps the more popular idea, if we’re promoting more excitement: Extend 3-on-3 overtime to 10 minutes before reaching the shootout portion. Look, 3-on-3 hockey is gimmicky, but’s it’s certainly less gimmicky than a shootout.

Shootouts used to be exciting because 4-on-4 wasn’t. Now shootouts feel like a letdown because 3-on-3 is a different level of excitement. 

That’s something Lehner can get behind.

"No, I don't think they should eliminate it," Lehner said of the shootouts. "I think 10 minutes 3-on-3 would be nice because 3-on-3 is a lot more entertaining than a shootout. The fan in the 3-on-3 is nuts, and there's always good chances, and we're playing hockey, we're letting hockey determine the fate of it. There's a lot of breakaways in 3-on-3, so you've still got a [shootout] element to it. But who I am I to judge. Let the big boys decide on that one."

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