What Will 3-on-3 Overtime Mean for NHL Goalies?
The NHL is set to introduce 3-on-3 overtime next season in an attempt to reduce the number of games decided by a shootout. Rather than adopt the extended two-stage model tested in the American Hockey League last season that started with 4-on-4 for three minutes, however, the NHL will go straight to five minutes of 3-on-3.
Rather than get caught up in debates about whether the NHL should have adopted the AHL model exactly despite the NHL Players’ Association’s dislike for a potential seven minute overtime period, InGoal Magazine simply asked frequent contributor Mike McKenna what goaltenders can expect from 3-on-3.
It sure sounds like the NHL’s desire for more wide-open play and overtime goals will be a reality.
“Three-on-three was a chess game the first 30 to 45 seconds but once the play got going one chance led to another and it was usually in the form of rushes” McKenna said. “Breakaways and 2-on-0s are commonplace.”
The NHL will still rely on a shootout if five minutes of 3-on-3 overtime don’t produce a goal, but in the AHL last season 75 percent of the games that went past regulation were decided in overtime, more than double the 35.3 percent from 2013-14, when they played 4-on-4 exclusively in overtime. In the NHL, 44.4 percent of games that went past regulation were decided in 4-on-4 overtime last season. There were 170 shootouts last season (13.8 percent of all games) and the year before there were 178 shootouts (14.5 percent of all games) in the NHL.
Some argued 3-on-3 was every bit as gimmicky as the shootout, which was introduced in 2005, because penalty shots occur more often naturally than 3-on-3 play. But McKenna preferred 3-on-3.
“Personally I liked it because it’s a naturally occurring element of the game,” said McKenna, who played for the Arizona Coyotes last season. “I’ve had several games during my career that have gone to 3-on-3 during the normal course of play. Yes, it’s rare, but it can happen. In that regard I find it to be much less of a gimmick than the shootout. And we already crossed a bridge by going to 4-on-4, might as well take another step.”
The NHL wanted to adopt the AHL model of a hybrid overtime that would have started with three minutes of 4-on-4 before switching to 3-on-3 for the final three minutes, but the players’ union balked at longer games.
“The 3-on-3 is definitely more tiring for a goalie,” McKenna said. “There’s not much for rest periods because it’s so difficult to have sustained pressure. Players might get two minutes extra while we are out there for the full seven and moving during a lot of it. Rushes use up energy going out and back. In general I don’t think playing seven minutes of overtime was any harder than five regular minutes, but if you played two or three overtime games on back-to-back days you definitely felt it the next day. That’s almost an entire period of extra hockey.”
McKenna was not worried about injury, however,
“I don’t see any injury worry,” said McKenna, who will be a free agent July 1 after going 27-18-6 with a .926 save percentage for the Portland Pirates last season. “I don’t think I saw a hit the entire time we played 3-on-3, and as a goalie your risk of injury is constant no matter what situation you are presented.”
So what style of goaltending is best suited for 3on-3 overtime?
Some wonder if elite puck-handling goalies like Mike Smith will have a bigger impact with all that extra space during 3-on-3. But McKenna, who handles the puck as well as any goalie at any level, didn’t find a lot of opportunities to play the puck in AHL overtime last season.
“I don’t think I handled a puck once during 3-on-3 other than making a save but the more it’s used it could happen,” said McKenna, who tied Nashville prospect Marek Mazanec for the AHL lead with five assists last season, one fewer than fellow St. Louis native Ben Bishop had to lead the NHL. “The problem is most shots arrive from in tight and the opposing player is on top of you, so you don’t have enough separation to make a home run pass.”
As for style of play, it should suit goalie that can handle odd-man rushes, but there are no guarantees.
“I’d like to think goalies who are proficient skaters and incorporate flow into their game have a better chance of success,” McKenna said. “But honestly 3-on-3 is just so wild and unpredictable I’m not sure any goalie has much of an advantage.”
That’s exactly what the NHL is counting on.