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3-on-3 overtime format leads to quick goals, few shootouts

In theory, Corey Crawford could be a key weapon in the NHL’s new 3-on-3 overtime. In a format designed to create odd-man rushes, Crawford could rack up some assists with quick trigger passes out of his own end.

“I don’t know,” Crawford countered. “I’ve got to stop the puck first.”

Oh, yeah. Good luck with that.

If the preseason has proven anything, it’s that shootouts — a goofy, gimmicky scourge that has plagued the NHL since their inception 10 years ago — are about to become as rare as line brawls and penalty shots. Entering Sunday, 16 preseason games had gone to overtime this preseason, and all but three of them were decided in overtime. Many more test runs — 3-on-3 overtimes played regardless of score, like in the Hawks’ 3-1 victory over St. Louis on Saturday — have ended quickly, too.

That’s the point, of course. The NHL wants fewer games decided by shootouts, and more games decided by actual hockey — even the glorified games of shinny that 3-on-3 battles resemble. More space to work with means more creativity, more odd-man rushes, and a whole lot more goals.

“I think it’s great,” Jonathan Toews said. “It gives us a chance to finish with the players on the ice. It’s going to be entertaining in a lot of ways. It’s a new element to the game that we’re going to have to get used to, but it’s going to be fun.”

Fun, sure. But wildly random, too. The Hawks trotted out the Conn Smythe-winning trio of Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith to open overtime on Saturday, and promptly lost at the end of the first shift when the Blues pounced during a line change. In the preseason opener, the Hawks won when Trevor Daley cashed in on an almost comical 3-on-1 with Kane and Artem Anisimov. The trio had all the time and all the space they could ever want.

Counterpunching is key in 3-on-3. Stop an odd-man rush in your end, and you’re likely to get one heading the other way. Most nights, all it will take is one poor pass, one pinched defenseman, one crafty pass from a goalie. Joel Quenneville said it will take coaches time to figure out the best defensive strategy in the new format.

“I like it,” Hawks forward Teuvo Teravainen said. “It’s a lot of skill, a lot of skating. But you have to be really smart out there, too.”

While it looks silly, it’s serious stuff. Playoff spots are won and lost on the strength of the bonus point awarded in overtime or shootouts. Last year, the Los Angeles Kings lost eight of the 10 shootouts they were in. They missed the playoffs by two points. The Hawks had the second-best shootout win percentage in the league, winning nine of 12. Had they just gone .500, they would have been a wild-card team.

“That’s the thing we’ve talked about in here — how’s it going to be when there’s a real point on the line?” Daley said. “How’s it going to be? There’s a lot of ice out there, and teams are going to put their top guys out there. So there are going to be a lot of chances.”

Keith called it “uncontrolled” and “free-flowing.” Daley deemed it “a little strange.” Teravainen said it was “really fun.” Nobody’s really sure quite what to make of it just yet. But there does seem to be a consensus — anything’s better than the shootout, the hockey equivalent of deciding a tied basketball game with a dunk contest, or a baseball game with a home-run derby.

Of course, it’s all relative. If the gimmicky shootout isn’t real hockey, then neither is 3-on-3.

Right?

Chirped Quenneville: “It is now.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus