The NHL's new three-on-three overtime format borrows heavily from the chaos of pond hockey, imposing a five-minute clock instead of having someone's mother break things up by yelling that it's time to come in for dinner.
In essence, the NHL is instituting one gimmick to minimize the necessity of another, hoping the extra space created by three-on-three play will promote scoring and settle games before a shootout would be required. At least, three-on-three allows the game to end on the ice rather than with a skills contest.
Fans probably will love it. Goaltenders, maybe not. Vancouver Canucks backup goalie Jacob Markstrom was blunt in summing up his experience with it in the American Hockey League. "It was a gong show," he told the Vancouver Province. "You'd stop a two-on-one and there would be a three-on-one the other way."
The new format — the most significant rule change introduced this season — is the response to sentiments that too many games were going to a shootout. Last season, 306 games were tied at the end of the third period and went to four-on-four overtime. Of those games, 170 (55.6%) had to be settled in a shootout.
Teams such as the Kings, who were 2-8 in shootouts last season and lost points that might have gotten them into the playoffs, should welcome the new format.
"Unfortunately, they scored on the first shot. But it's definitely pretty exciting for the fans and for the players. It's nice to have something new…. It's a lot of big ice for the guys."
Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg, who led the NHL last season with nine shootout goals in 13 attempts (.692), cautioned that the new configuration still requires defensive diligence.
"You've got make sure you play man-on-man. You can't let your guy go because that opens up a lot," he said. "I think the players are going to enjoy it. I think the fans are going to enjoy it. I think it's a good change."
Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler, a nimble skater who should benefit from extra space, said puck possession will be the key to overtime success.
If players can't get into the offensive zone and must retreat, "you don't want to give up the puck possession three-on-three because it's hard to get the puck back if it gets turned over," he said. "Then you can see if you go down and take a shot and miss the net, there could be a three-on-one, two-on-one the other way."
Incidentally, a penalty that carries over from regulation or taken during overtime would result in four-on-three play. A second penalty would make it five on three. There won't be fewer than three skaters.
Also new this season is expanded video review to allow a coach's challenge, though it is limited to scenarios involving possible offside infractions or goaltender interference.
A play that results in a goal call on the ice can be reviewed if the defending team asserts the play should have been stopped because of an offside violation by the attacking team. In instances of possible goaltender interference, a play that results in a goal call can be reviewed if the defending team asserts the goal should have been disallowed because of goalie interference.
Also subject to a coach's challenge is a play that results in a no-goal call on the ice despite the puck having entered the net and on-ice officials having determined that the attacking team was guilty of goaltender interference, but the attacking team asserts there was no contact with the goalkeeper initiated by the attacking team or that the attacking player was pushed into the goalie by a defender, or the attacking player's positioning within the crease didn't impair the goalie's ability to defend his net.
A team can request a coach's challenge only if it has retained its timeout, and the request must be made before play resumes. If the coach's challenge doesn't overturn the original call on the ice, the team that made the unsuccessful challenge will lose its timeout. If the challenge is successful, the team will keep its timeout.
The stagnation of scoring, which dropped to 5.324 goals a game last season, still must be addressed, but the NHL didn't need to change much this season. Business has been good — revenues might top $4 billion despite a weak Canadian dollar — three outdoor games are planned, and the World Cup of Hockey will bring back international competition next September. This is a rare moment between lockouts and before the dilution of expansion … to be enjoyed while we can.