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Wilson's goalie switch makes for an interesting debate

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TSN.ca Staff
10/22/2008 4:02:37 PM
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While switching goaltenders for shootout isn't a new tactic in the post-lockout NHL, it certainly raises a lot of eyebrows when it happens.

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson took that gamble on Tuesday night against the Anaheim Ducks, pulling Vesa Toskala after 65 solid minutes and replacing him with backup Curtis Joseph.

The gamble didn't work, as Teemu Selanne and Corey Perry beat the veteran netminder and the Leafs failed to collect the extra point. "I've never seen it happen before," said Perry after the game. "I saw (Joseph) warming up and I turned to the bench and said, 'They're putting him in?"'

While Perry hasn't witnessed the 'goalie switcheroo,' it has been done three previous times since the shootout was instituted in 2005.

On Nov. 22 of that year, Mika Noronen of the Buffalo Sabres aggravated a groin injury while giving up a goal on the first shot of a shootout against New York Rangers centre Martin Straka. The NHL rulebook says goalies can be replaced in a shootout if there's an injury and in came Martin Biron who gave up two goals on two shots to lose the game.

Edmonton Oilers goalie Ty Conklin earned a 3-3 tie after three periods and overtime against the Dallas Stars on Mar. 7, 2006. But Edmonton head coach Craig MacTavish brought in backup goalie Mike Morrison because he had not lost in five previous shootouts. That move also failed, as Morrison gave up two goals on the first two shots in the shootout to lose the game.
 
On Oct. 26, 2006, Atlanta Thrashers goalie Johan Hedberg earned a 2-2 tie after three periods and overtime against the Philadelphia Flyers. Atlanta head coach Bob Hartley brought in Kari Lehtonen, who gave up two goals on three shots in the shootout to lose the game.
 
So to date, no replacement goalie in any given shootouts have ever tallied the extra point and are a combined 1-for-9 in saves.

"Coaches handle this differently and I'm not criticizing any coaches," explained NHL on TSN analyst John Tortorella. "But myself - I would not take Toskala out. He got them there, the team played their ass off tonight, I just think you need to stick with him."

Like a manager in baseball, Wilson was certainly playing the percentages with a closer. Joseph had been scored on 28 per cent of the time in penalty shots with a 5-3 record while Toskala had been beaten with 54 per cent of the attempts and sported a dismal 2-9 record.

"I know there's been a problem with his stats, but he's got to learn to fight through that," said Tortorella, who had an 18-7 shootout record as coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. "He's your No. 1 guy, I think you need to keep him in there and find a way to win."

Making things more difficult for a goalie coming in cold is the fact that he's been sitting on the bench for 2 1/2 hours, which can leave any player's mind and body unprepared.

"I think you don't even give him (Wilson) a choice," said NHL on TSN analyst Darren Pang, who played 80 career NHL games with the Chicago Blackhawks. "I know there's some issues and you go through practice and say, 'Hey Cujo, what if this happened - could you go in there?' After 65 minutes of sitting on the bench - and I should know because I sat on the bench a lot - it is not easy sitting that long and then going in. It's not a 5-on-5, it's a shootout with highly skilled players." 

Nevertheless, Wilson told reporters after the game that he wouldn't hesitate to make that move again in a future shootout.

"Tonight it didn't work, but it's the law of averages," he said. "We're going to keep practicing it. It's like a three-foot putt. If you don't practice it, you never know if you can make them. And that's all that a shootout really is, practicing three-foot putts, making 100 of them in a row and that's what we have to do."

If you were an NHL head coach, would you put in a new goalie in place of your starter in the shootout? It's Your Call.

Vesa Toskala and Curtis Joseph (Photo: Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
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