Why The Penalty Shot Is The Most Exciting Play In Hockey, And Why The Shootout Is Not

VANCOUVER CANADA - NOVEMBER 1: Henrik Sedin #33 of the Vancouver Canucks puts a move on goalie Martin Brodeur #30 of the New Jersey Devils while taking a penalty shot during the third period in NHL action on November 01 2010 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver British Columbia Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

The penalty shot is the most exciting play in hockey for a whole host of reasons, but the notion that those reasons carry over to the shootout? Yeah, not true.

The penalty shot is one of those plays that we don't really think about too much. I mean, we all know it's there and that it can happen, but it's not something that's in our conscious while watching a hockey game.

Much of that has to do with the rarity of it. I tried looking up exactly how rare the penalty shot is, but struggled to find concrete numbers on it. In any event, I know that I watched about 300 hockey games last year, if not more, and can only remember seeing two penalty shots in total.

We also know that a penalty shot happens in overtime about once every ten years, and that when that does happen, a kid that got dropped at your door step will wake up from a nap asking to watch the Kangaroo Song.

But although it's not necessarily in the front of our minds as we watch a game, we quickly notice when the possibility of one comes up.

Hm, okay... might be a breakaway here.

Here comes a breakaway, alright!

THERE'S A GUY CHASING HIM! HE'S REACHING WITH HIS STICK!

OH HE TOOK HIM OUT FROM BEHIND!

PENALTY SHOT!

That's when you realize just how much you've missed the penalty shot, and just how awesome the thing is. That moment when the ref points to center ice and the crowd erupts (even if the shooting team is the visitor, there's still plenty of buzz), and you realize that there's about to be a one-on-one break that could potentially even decide the game?

Yeah, it's fantastic.

That's what I was going through last night as a Philadelphia Flyers fan, watching a tie game against a division rival from high atop the Wells Fargo Center, as Max Talbot was hauled down from behind and awarded a penalty shot. Thanks, Mark Fayne.

There's no denying that this is the most exciting play in hockey, and I'm not just saying that because my team happened to score on one last night.

It's about the rush of it. That goal that's potentially lurking on the end of Talbot's stick? Yeah, it counts as an actual goal in the actual hockey game. Goals are what we all come to see, and there's the anticipation of one lingering right there. It's kind of like a power play, except the showdown aspect of it makes it eight billion times better. Helps that there's a better chance of scoring on a penalty shot than a power play, too. 

And it's completely fair. Penalty shots are only awarded when the offending team does something wrong, and when they take a distinct scoring opportunity away from their opponent. It's like some fantastic Wild West form of exhilarating justice.

You never hear whining about how the penalty shot takes away from the game or how it's a gimmick, and that's because it's a completely fair system that just so happens to be completely awesome. You can probably see where we're going here, but it's pretty unbelievable how stark the juxtaposition between the penalty shot and the shootout really are. 

They essentially amount to the exact same thing, and the exact same rules govern both. But despite the fact that it's also a highly-entertaining one-on-one battle between the goalie and a shooter, the shootout lacks absolutely everything that's good about the penalty shot.

  • It's not a part of the game. 
  • The other team didn't do anything wrong for you to get that attempt at the net. It's just the way it is. 
  • The goal, if scored, does not count as a goal on the scoreboard. It's some other quasi-scoreboard. 
  • There's the whole "wait, how's this game worth three points when if it ended five minutes ago it'd only be two points?" thing. But that applies to overtime as well. 
  • The rarity of it? There have already been 160 shootout attempts taken in 27 shootouts this year. And it's only early November. There were 1,059 attempts at the net in 149 shootouts a year ago, and those numbers were down from the year prior.

The shootout is horrible. It doesn't take away from how awesome the penalty shot is, but the excitement of the shootout is based upon the idea that it's somehow as good as the penalty shot. The two are not even close to the same. 

Star-divide

Morning Skate runs Monday through Friday. Check the archives.

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