What Is a Shootout in Hockey? Shootouts in the NHL Today

Posted on April 16, 2024 by Dan Kent
shootout

Most sports fans attend contests to see winners and losers in each game. However, it's always possible that the result ends in a tie

To combat this, the majority of major sports leagues around the world, including hockey, have implemented some tie-breaking system to guarantee there is a winner of the game. 

In the NHL, this is called a shootout.

What is a hockey shootout?

A hockey shootout is a penalty shot competition used to decide the result of a game that is tied after regulation time and is still tied at the end of overtime

In a shootout, a player starts with the puck at center ice and has a scoring opportunity 1-1 against the opposing team's goalie. The puck can only move forwards. If it moves backwards, the play is considered dead.

When did NHL shootouts start?

The National Hockey League implement shootouts in the 2005-06 season to remove tie matches from the sport.

The league holds a shootout if a game is still level after a five-minute sudden-death overtime period.

Shootout Rules

In the NHL, each team chooses three players to take a penalty shot on the opposing netminder during a shootout. The teams then alternate taking shots.

As soon as one team manages to score and the other team doesn't after the same number of shots, the shootout is over.

How long does an NHL shootout last?

The NHL shootout lasts until one team has scored more goals than the other after three shooters. If the score is tied after three shooters, the shootout continues and becomes a sudden-death format.

Who goes first in an NHL shootout?

The home team chooses whether to shoot first or second in the shootout. Statistically, choosing to shoot first has been the better decision. 

For this reason, most coaches will choose to shoot first over deferring to the other team.

What is the maximum number of players that can participate in an NHL shootout?

There is no maximum amount of players that can participate in an NHL shootout. Although unlikely, if the shootout were to go 18 rounds, all 18 skaters would have a chance to shoot.

In the unlikely event that every eligible shooter has taken a shot (it has happened once in history) or there is an injury, a player may shoot twice. This is different than an Olympic hockey shootout, in which after the three players have shot, repeating players can shoot again.

Does a shootout win count as a win in NHL?

Yes, the shootout counts as a win in the NHL. The winning team will get two points toward the standings, and the losing team will get one point. However, the individual players scoring in the shootout will not accumulate points themselves.

In the event of a tie in the standings for playoff purposes, shootout wins do not count toward a team's win total. Instead, they use regulation and overtime wins to determine which teams tied in points will make the playoffs.

A summary of the NHL shootout rules

  • The home team chooses if it will shoot first or second in the shootout
  • Shooters must move the puck forwards
  • A shooter is allowed one shot only on an attempt and can't touch the puck after releasing it
  • The goaltender isn't allowed to throw their stick or any other piece of equipment at the shooter
  • A goaltender may be changed before the shootout begins but not after the first shot is taken unless due to injury
  • A player may take only one shot unless all players have taken their turn

The best shootout goals of all time


How does an NHL shootout work?

The puck sits at center ice, and the referee blows the whistle. The player taking the shot skates forward with the puck and then attempts to score a goal against the goalie – no other players are present.

The scenario then switches, and the opposing team's players take an opportunity against the other goalie until a winner is declared. The shootout moves to a sudden-death format if there is no winner after three shots for each team.

Are there shootouts in the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs?

While most leagues use a shootout system during a regular-season game, the NHL and other top leagues don't implement one during the playoffs.

Once the postseason begins, all tied games are decided by sudden-death overtime. The NHL plays full 20-minute overtime periods with an intermission between each period.

This means contests could last several hours and periods until a winner is decided, extending the overall game time considerably compared with a regular win over three periods.

The longest overtime contest in NHL history occurred in the 1935/36 Stanley Cup semifinals when the Detroit Red Wings beat the Montreal Maroons 1-0. The winning goal was scored in the sixth overtime period after an additional 116 minutes and 30 seconds of play.

However, it's believed the longest overtime game in pro hockey history was played in 2017 when the Storhamar Dragons edged the Sparta Warriors 2-1 in the Norwegian League playoffs.

The game lasted eight overtime periods and was decided after an extra 157 minutes and 14 seconds of play.

In total, the contest lasted 8.5 hours. You can imagine how physically and mentally exhausted the players and coaches would have been.

What is the longest NHL shootout in history?

The longest shootout in NHL history occurred on December 16th, 2014. The Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals went a whopping twenty rounds in the shootout before Nick Bjugstad scored the winner.

Before this, the longest shootout in NHL history involved the Washington Capitals yet again. This time, it was in 2005 against the New York Rangers and went 15 rounds.

Who is the best shootout player in the NHL?

If we go by a minimum of 30 shootout attempts, Artemi Panarin is the best shootout player in the NHL, scoring at a 62% pace. The second-best shootout player in NHL history would be Vyacheslav Kozlov, who played for the Atlanta Thrashers until the 2009-2010 season. He scored at a 58.7% pace over 46 shootout attempts. 

Who scored the first NHL shootout goal?

Daniel Alfredsson of the Ottawa Senators scored the first-ever shootout goal on the first-ever shootout attempt. It was against the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2005, against goaltender Ed Belfour.

History of NHL Overtime

Although shootouts were introduced by the NHL less than 20 years ago, the league used a 10-minute overtime period to settle tie games up until 1942. After that, tie games were allowed, and each team was awarded a point in the standings for a draw.

The NHL then introduced a five-minute overtime period in 1983 to try and reduce the number of ties. The game would remain a tie if it wasn't decided in the extra session.

Then in 1999, the league decided to award one point in the standings for each team if a game ended in a tie after 60 minutes of regulation time. An extra point was awarded to a team that won in overtime.

Teams that lose games in overtime or a shootout have the result listed in the standings as (OTL), which means overtime loss.

What are the pros and cons of the NHL shootout?

Pros:

  • Delivers a quick end and resolution to the game
  • Less taxing on the players physically over additional overtime periods, improving players' health
  • Exciting and allows players to show off individual skill

Cons:

  • A test of individual skill is not what hockey, often called the ultimate team sport, is about
  • It can be primarily based on luck
  • This can result in cautionary overtime strategies to get games to the shootout if a team is good at them, killing overtime excitement

A shootout in hockey is somewhat controversial as many hockey purists say it's a gimmick and don't believe it to be a suitable way to decide a game. They believe the overtime period should be extended to 10 minutes or the game should end in a tie.

Those who support shootouts believe it's a fast and exciting way to decide a game. It is straightforward for fans to follow as it provides an immediate result.

Shootouts and Player Statistics

Most hockey leagues keep separate shootout statistics as they keep track of the shooter and goaltender records. 

For example, a player will be known to have scored 50% of shootout attempts by scoring on five of 10, and a goalie may have a 90% save record by saving nine of 10 shots.

However, these statistics aren't added to individual and league totals regarding goals scored, saves, save percentage and goals-against average. 

Shootout goals and saves aren't added to a league's overall game statistics, including plus-minus stats.

When a game ends in a 0-0 tie after regulation time, each netminder is credited with a shutout regardless of who wins in overtime or a shootout and how many goals may be scored in a shootout.

The team which wins in a shootout will have a single goal added to their season total, while the losing team will have a goal against added to theirs.

No matter how many goals are scored in a shootout, the final score will be listed as a one-goal victory. For example, a game which ends 3-3 after regulation time will be recorded as a 4-3 final following a shootout.

Since nobody has come up with a better solution for deciding the score of a tie hockey game, it appears that shootouts are here to stay unless hockey leagues revert to allowing tie games in the standings. 

Can hockey games end in a tie?

In some leagues, yes, but since the NHL changed its rules, most professional leagues now use a shootout after a sudden death is played until a game winner is found.

I wrote more about this in my article: Can Hockey End In a Tie? The Brutal Truth

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada, Stocktrades.ca.

Looking for more hockey content? Have a look at these articles