EVERETT — It wasn’t so long ago that when the Everett Silvertips went to a shootout, the only question was whether the Tips would lose in three rounds, or whether the opponent would need just two to finish Everett off.
Austin Lotz is almost single-handedly flipping that equation around.
The Tips’ goaltender turned in yet another difference-making performance in Tuesday’s shootout victory against Tri-City in Kennewick, and Lotz’s dominating efforts in shootouts are earning Everett points that could prove vital in the big picture.
“He’s been fantastic, he can’t be much better,” Everett coach Kevin Constantine said about Lotz’s recent shootout performances. “If you add up the stats from the last three he’s been remarkably good.”
Lotz turned aside all six attempts he faced in Tuesday’s game, setting up Carson Stadnyk to win the shootout and give Everett a 4-3 victory.
That kind of shootout performance is becoming routine for Lotz. In his past three shootouts, Lotz denied 25 of the 26 attempts he’s faced. That includes his 14-for-15 performance on Nov. 15 against Kamloops in the longest shootout in Western Hockey League history. Lotz’s save percentage in his past three shootouts is 96.1, an astounding number when one considers that every one of those shots was a breakaway. That percentage is 5.5 percent better than his season save percentage during open play (90.6).
It’s gotten to the point that when Everett wins a shootout, the players file off the bench and head straight to Lotz for the postgame celebrations, rather than flocking around the scorer of the clinching goal.
“I don’t know,” Lotz responded when asked how he’s been so successful in shootouts this season. “Some people have asked me that. It’s a little bit of luck. I’d like to think it’s from lots of practice, but at the same time it’s a little bit of luck.”
Add in back-up goaltender Carter Hart’s efforts and Everett is 4-1 in shootouts this season, which places the Tips at the top of the league’s shootout rankings.
That lofty ranking might be difficult to believe for those who have been following Everett in recent years.
From 2010-13, Everett was by far the worst shootout team in the league. The Tips were an abysmal 4-16 in shootouts in those three seasons. Everett ranked dead last in the league in the shootout rankings in 2012-13 when it finished 1-4 in the tiebreaker, and the Tips were second-to-last in 2010-11 (also 1-4) and 2011-12 (when they were 2-8). Last season, the Tips were better, but nothing special as they went 3-3 in shootouts to rank 12th in the 22-team league.
So what’s been the reason for the dramatic turnaround in results?
An examination of the numbers reveals that Lotz deserves almost all the credit. Everett has converted seven of its 32 shootout attempts this season for a success rate of 21.9 percent. That’s right in line with the down years — Everett converted 15.4 percent in 2010-11, 21.6 percent in 2011-12 and 21.1 percent in 20-12-13. When the attempts from games involving Everett are eliminated, the league is converting at a 31.1-percent clip this season, so the Tips aren’t exactly lighting up the opposing goaltender.
The big change has been on the goaltending side. In 2010-11, Everett’s opponents scored on half of their shootout chances (6-for-12). In 2011-12, it was 41.2 percent (14-for-34) and in 2012-13 it was 42.1 percent (9-for-19). This season, between Lotz and Hart, the Tips are holding opponents to a minuscule 9.4 success rate.
Lotz, who is 19 and in his fourth season with the Tips, was around for two of the team’s dismal shootout campaigns and remembers well the shootout dark days.
“It was really frustrating,” Lotz recalled. “When you win a shootout there’s no other feeling, you get the adrenaline pumping in winning by the one goal. When you lose you get bitter and you feel like you should have had a better chance to win the game. Those early years were tough because we weren’t winning much. But it’s definitely nice that we’ve got a couple shootout wins in now.”
Lotz seems to have gotten better with experience. In the previous three seasons, he stopped 70.3 percent of opposing shootout attempts.
“I think your timing gets a little better (over the years),” Lotz added. “When you’re a young guy you might be a little too aggressive or bit too early. As you get older you realize, especially in a shootout, you have to stay calm and get your timing right with the skater coming down. If there’s one thing I’ve been working on, it’s the timing when they’re coming down and shooting.”
The team’s extra points gained by winning shootouts could prove vital when the season’s final standings are determined. Last season, Everett lost out on home-ice advantage in its first-round playoff series against Seattle by a single point, and in 2010-11 and 2011-12 the Tips just snuck into the playoffs by three and two points, respectively.
“Over the last month, Portland has been the best team in our division,” said Constantine, whose team is in first-place in the U.S. Division, just three points ahead of the four-time defending Western Conference champion. “We’re going to have to do a lot of things right to fend them off, if we have a chance at all. At that point every point becomes critical.
“Even last year home-ice advantage came down to a shootout in Portland in the last game of the year,” Constantine continued. “If we had won that shootout we would have finished fourth and had home-ice advantage. Who knows if that would have changed things, but it might have. That’s how important one point was last year, so these points are important.”
Therefore, should the Tips edge out another team in the standings, they can look back at Lotz’s efforts in shootouts as having made a difference.
Everett defenseman Ben Betker, who sat out Tuesday’s game at Tri-City, has a concussion. He will miss this weekend’s home games against Prince George and Tri-City as he goes through the concussion protocol. … Prince George will be without defenseman Sam Ruopp in Friday’s contest. Ruopp was suspended two games by the league for a kneeing major penalty taken during the Cougars’ 4-3 home victory over Saskatoon on Tuesday.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.