Prior to the 2005-06 NHL season, following a lockout year, games could still end in a tie. Should neither team win the game after 60 minutes (regulation time), the game would head to a 5-minute overtime.
If a team would win in overtime, they would earn 2 points in the standings while the opponent would earn 1 point. If the game ended in a tie, each team would earn 1 point.
The NHL noticed that both teams would play more cautiously in overtime not to lose the game. That’s because teams didn’t want their opponent to benefit from the extra point, quite possibly diminishing their own chances of making the playoffs.
Take note that during the playoffs, teams play 20-minute ‘sudden-death’ overtime periods until a winner is determined. However, the NHL did not want to mandate a similar practice during the regular season.
So, in order to break the stalemate, the NHL decided to implement the shootout to guarantee a winner in every game.
What is a shootout in hockey?
The shootout is an alternating penalty shot contest to settle tie games in hockey. In the NHL, each team assigns 3 shooters (minimum) aside to face the opposing team’s goaltender. If the score is still tied after the first 3 rounds, teams continue round by round until a winner is determined.
It is also possible for the shootout never to reach the 3rd round altogether or to completion. This can happen if one of the team manages to score in the first two rounds, while the other doesn’t score at all.
As a result, teams do not engage in the 3rd round or complete the round since it wouldn’t change the outcome.
Games reach the shootout following the score being tied after regulation time and 5-minute overtime. Since the 2015-16 season, the NHL implemented a 3-on-3 overtime to reduce games getting settled in the shootout.
Prior to then, NHL overtimes were played 4-on-4 and the numbers show that 67% more games were settled in the shootout. See table for Shootout Percentages by Year below for more details on this statistic.
What percentage of NHL games go to shootout?
7.9% of all NHL games go to shootout since the introduction of 3-on-3 overtime periods. That percentage translates to 6.5 games per team in an 82-game season. While the NHL mandated 4-on-4 overtime, the percentage of games reaching the shootout averaged 13.2%, or 10.8 games per team per 82-game season.
Shootout Percentages by Year
Total Games Played
% Shootout Games
Table: The NHL transitioned from 4-on-4 overtime gameplay to 3-on-3 as of the 2015-16 season. 7.9% is the average calculated for the first 5 entries (3-on-3), while 13.2% is calculated for the remaining values, representing 4-on-4. Values were weighted for games played.
The basic rules of shootout are quite simple. Each team sends out 3 players to take penalty shots on the opposing goalie in alternating fashion.
If the game remains tied after 3 rounds, teams send out players round by round until one team scores and the other misses on their opportunity. The last team to score is declared the victor.
There are some additional rules that viewers should take note of.
A different player must be summoned to shoot for every round. This continues until every player is given an opportunity to shoot and the cycle begins again from scratch.
It’s also possible that a player is ineligible to take a penalty shot if they were serving a penalty that has not expired yet, were ejected from the game or injured.
In that case, a player’s eligibility to shoot again resets after all players from the shorter bench are granted a penalty shot opportunity. The player eligibility list resets for both teams at the same time.
Furthermore, the winning team is awarded an additional goal in the Goals For column in the standings. This is a considered a team goal, and no individual player statistics change as a result.
The same applies to the losing team, except that the goal is recorded on the Goals Against column.
If you’re curious to learn more about the NHL Standings, make sure to check out my blog post on Hockey Standings Explained Column by Column.
During each penalty shot attempt, the puck must be kept in forward motion until it reaches the opposing team’s goal line. Players are only allowed to attempt a single shot on net.
NHL Rulebook on Shootout
The NHL states the following for penalty shots (and shootout attempts):
“The puck must be kept in motion towards the opponent’s goal line and once it is shot, the play shall be considered complete. No goal can be scored on a rebound of any kind (an exception being the puck off the goal post or crossbar, then the goalkeeper and then directly into the goal), and any time the puck crosses the goal line or comes to a complete stop, the shot shall be considered complete.”
NHL Rule 24.2 (source)
Is there shootout in the playoffs?
As noted earlier, there are no shootouts during the playoffs. Once a game reaches overtime, teams play until the next goal is scored, also known as “sudden-death”. The overtime periods are each 20-minutes long and games can go on for quite some time.
If you want to see a list of longest games recorded in NHL history, make sure to check out my blog post here called How Long Does an Ice Hockey Game Last?
It should go without saying that these were all NHL playoff games!
What is the Longest Shootout in NHL History?
The longest shootout in NHL history lasted 20 rounds, won by the Florida Panthers against the Washington Capitals. The game took place on December 16, 2014 and ended in a 2-1 victory for the Panthers.
Three other records were set during that famous match:
Most total shootout goals in a game – 11 goals
Most shootout goals by a team in a game – 6 goals by the Panthers
Most shootout saves by a goalie – 15 saves (Roberto Luongo – Panthers)