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CHEAP THRILLS

Shootouts add sizzle to the game... until, like Blake Wheeler, you whiff completely

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These are the shootout moments Blake Wheeler chooses to cherish: arms raised in celebration and the crowd at full throat as he touches his teammates' gloves while skating by a euphoric bench.

After all, there's nothing like besting an opponent mano-a-mano with the contest hanging in the balance.

So his complete whiff on an attempt in Tuesday night's 3-2 shootout loss against the New York Islanders will soon be all but gone and forgotten by the big Winnipeg Jets winger.

"I've got decent numbers in the shootout," said Wheeler when the subject was broached Wednesday, "but I'm normally better when I get a shot off instead of dumping it in the corner. Hopefully next time I'll challenge the goalie a little bit."

Ba-dum, dum.

Hey listen, give the guy some credit for at least having a sense of humour about it all.

Funny thing about the shootout, which ended up costing the Jets a point the other night after both Wheeler and Kyle Wellwood missed while P.A. Parenteau and Frans Nielsen both scored for the Isles:

When the home side wins, everybody in the building insists it's the greatest contribution to hockey since the invention of the jockstrap. But when the home side loses, the angry mob cries out about it being an absolute abomination that should be immediately trashed.

That script played out late Tuesday on the TSN Radio post-game show when fans debated head coach Claude Noel's decision to use Wheeler and Wellwood, despite the fact they lead the team in career shootout goals with nine each and despite the fact Wellwood -- along with Andrew Ladd -- scored the only goals in a shootout win over Florida earlier this season.

But no one ever said the facts should get in the way of a good rant.

Just for the record, Noel said Wednesday the call on the shootout participants against the Islanders was based on their career numbers.

"You go on the percentages and who has had success," said Noel. "Some guys are great scorers in games, but not in shootouts. Some guys don't want to be 'The Guy.' You don't ask the players, you just get a feel for what's what. Some guys have got good one-on-one moves and sometimes you practise it and watch. We haven't done it as of late, but we did earlier in the year and we know the records guys have had through the league.

"There are no guarantees... Wheeler's a real good shootout guy and he lost the puck. When you're dealing with three players (to take part), you go with your best first, that's the way that I go. I don't save my best for last because it might be over before you get to use him. And then you go from there. Once it gets into four, five and six, then you start to feel things out and maybe go with a hunch. You just don't know. There's no real answer there because you just don't know what you're going to get."

Wheeler said he got the tap on the shoulder not long after the overtime session ended against the Islanders. And, just so we're clear: he'll eagerly take on the challenge again when asked to do so.

"It's fun for everyone... the players, the fans, everybody," said Wheeler. "It's tough that a point comes down to something like that, but at the same time it's created a lot of excitement for the fans and as a player you want to be involved in it, too.

"I'll tell you what, though," he added, "it's a whole lot more fun when you score."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

NHL SHOOTOUTS -- BY THE NUMBERS

Love it or despise it, the shootout is a fixture in the NHL and plays a critical role in determining

which team picks up the extra point following an overtime game and, ultimately, who qualifies for the playoffs. Here's a look at some of the juicy shootout numbers:

JETS/THRASHERS ALL-TIME SHOOTOUT RECORD

2011-12 -- 1-2

2010-11 -- 5-7

2009-10 -- 4-6

2008-09 -- 7-1

2007-08 -- 9-6

2006-07 -- 7-4

2005-06 -- 5-5

All-Time: 38-31

JETS SHOOTER SUMMARY

A look at the career shootout numbers for the current Jets, including total shots taken, goals, scoring percentage and game-deciding goals:

Player Shots Goals S% GDG

Blake Wheeler 26 9 34.6 2

Kyle Wellwood 27 9 33.3 2

Antti Miettinen 25 8 32.0 3

Bryan Little 22 6 27.3 1

Andrew Ladd 10 4 40.0 3

Nik Antropov 14 3 21.4 0

Tim Stapleton 3 2 66.7 2

Jim Slater 1 1 100.0 1

Alexander Burmistrov 4 1 25.0 1

Evander Kane 4 0 0.0 0

Chris Thorburn 1 0 0.0 0

Dustin Byfuglien 6 0 0.0 0

Tobias Enstrom 1 0 0.0 0

Eric Fehr 3 0 0.0 0

Ron Hainsey 1 0 0.0 0

THE FINISHERS

Top five NHLers who have scored the most game-deciding goals via the shootout this year:

Player/Team GDG

1. Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey 4

2. Rick Nash, Columbus 3

3. Ryan Clowe, San Jose; Matt Cullen, Minnesota; Patrick Kane, Chicago; Joffrey Lupul, Toronto; Dominic Moore, Tampa Bay; Ryan O'Reilly, Colorado; Jason Spezza, Ottawa; Jonathan Toews, Chicago -- all tied with 2

BEST OF THE BEST

Top five NHLers with most career shootout goals:

Player/Team Total G S% GDG

1. Jussi Jokinen, Car. 62 28 45.2 9

2. Pavel Datsyuk, Det. 55 27 49.1 9

3. Zach Parise, NJ. 55 27 49.1 9

4. Brad Boyes, Buf. 54 26 48.1 9

5. Radim Vrbata, Phx 55 26 47.3 10

THE GOALTENDERS

Top five NHL goaltenders in the shootout this season:

Player/Team W L Shots Goals Sv%

1. Semyon Varlamov, Col. 5 0 16 2 .875

2. Johan Hedberg, NJ 5 1 18 6 .667

3. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pitt. 3 1 12 2 .833

4. Craig Anderson, Ott. 3 1 14 4 .714

5. Corey Crawford, Chi. 3 2 14 3 .786

Ondrej Pavelec, Wpg. 1 2 7 4 .429

THE STOPPERS

Top 10 active goaltenders in career shootouts:

Player/Team W L Shots Goals Sv%

1. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR. 38 27 248 59 .762

2. Martin Brodeur, NJ. 37 19 195 54 .723

3. Ryan Miller, Buff. 31 20 175 52 .703

4. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pitt. 30 16 142 33 .768

5. Kari Lehtonen, Dal. 26 16 141 40 .716

-- Chris Mason, Wpg. 17 15 101 30 .703

-- Ondrej Pavelec, Wpg. 4 11 42 19 .548

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 22, 2011 C1

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