SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After the 2004-05 NHL lockout, several new rules were implemented, and one of them was adding a shootout to eliminate ties.
The extra points earned in a shootout the winner gets two points, the loser one -- can be vital at the end of the season, and the Minnesota Wild have taken notice.
"You see how many teams at the end of the year miss the playoffs by one, two, three points," said Wild forward Kyle Brodziak, who happens to play for a team with an NHL-best 37 points. "It is huge. That is why it is so important. A lot of teams don't put much emphasis into the shooutout, but it is obviously important. If you can get those three or four points, it is going to add up at the end of the year."
A look at the 2010-11 Western Conference standings shows that four points separated the fourth and ninth spots. The eighth and final playoff position wasn't decided until the last day of the season. Chicago grabbed that spot over Dallas, leaving the Stars out of the playoffs. The thing is, Dallas was involved in 12 shootouts and lost seven.
Despite the important role shootouts can play in an NHL season, not a lot of teams put much time into practicing them regularly. Several Wild players say shootouts have never been part of their daily practice routine until this year under new coach Mike Yeo.
"This is the most I have ever worked on shootout during a season," said Wild center Matt Cullen, who is tied for second in the NHL with four shootout goals.
Yeo isn't about to let any detail go unpracticed, and the Wild are 4-1 in shootouts as part of their overall 17-7-3 record.
"If we haven't won those you think of the difference in standings -- as the year goes on those points are huge -- It is something that you have to work on" Yeo said.
The work pays off. Entering the Wild's game at Edmonton last Wednesday, Brodziak had one career shootout attempt -- one he didn't connect on. But with the game on the line, Yeo called on Brodziak to shoot. He scored, and the Wild got the win and the extra point against a divisional opponent.
"I think when you do it so often (in practice), you start feeling comfortable with the moves you are thinking about doing," he said. "It helps without a question. The more repetition, the more comfortable you feel."
Practice is important for the goalies, too.
"It is good to keep working at it, keep getting better at it -- see what works against left-handed shooters, right-handed shooters," goaltender Josh Harding said.
Plus, it's not all work.
"(Yeo) does make it fun," Brodziak said. "It is a good way to end practice on a positive note, and it is beneficial, too."
Yeo's practice setup goes like this: Each player takes a turn shooting, and once a player scores a goal he is out. The final player remaining is the loser. The drill had become a fun competition among the players, and there is always a consequence for losing.
"Every day, it is a different competition on what the loser has to do" Brodziak said. "There is something different -- a guy picks up magazines for us to have around the locker room or they have to get everyone else juice or coffee or whatever they want to drink, things like that."
A few weeks ago, forward Nick Johnson lost, and his task was taking off his skates and going into the stands to high-five a group of youth hockey players who were attending Minnesota's practice.
Sometimes, though, the consequence can be more lasting. Cal Clutterbuck was the loser of the shootout at the beginning of October and was required to grow moustache for the month. Yeo learned that one with the Penguins.
"When you have to grow a moustache, it puts a little more pressure on you," the coach said. "It doesn't quite replicate the feeling you are going to have in a game, but the pressure is there and you do have to go out and you have to score or something bad is going to happen if you don't score."