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Playing the penalty shot odds

Crosby took the shot—but Nash gets the last chuckle


 

As it turns out, the decision didn’t make any difference. It wasn’t even that important at the time. But if the same scenario unfolds against the Russians Wednesday night—and Canadian coach Mike Babcock makes the wrong choice—the nation won’t be so forgiving.

With Canada already up 4-0 in the second period, a German defenceman hauled down Rick Nash as he barreled toward the net on a breakaway. (Or at least the referee thought it was a breakaway; the truth is debatable). Either way, Nash was awarded a penalty shot. Under international rules, however, the shooter doesn’t necessarily have to be the player who draws the penalty. The coach can choose anyone.

Enter Sidney Crosby.

As Babcock later explained, the numbers don’t lie. Sid the Kid has converted more than 50 per cent of his penalty shot opportunities in the NHL, while Nash’s average is closer to 35 per cent. That’s exactly why Crosby led off the shoot-out against Switzerland last week, and why, when the score was still tied after the mandatory three shooters, Crosby came out again for shot number four.

And it’s why Crosby—not Nash—lined up against German goaltender Thomas Greiss Tuesday night.

Unfortunately, the percentages didn’t pan out this time around. Crosby faked left, shot right, and watched the puck bounce off Greiss’s pad.

“It’s one of those ones when he didn’t score, you wish you didn’t do it,” Babcock told reporters after the game, an 8-2 romp. “But the stats show that Crosby’s got a better chance to score. So it’s real simple. To me, it’s all about winning. I even said to Nash: ‘You do all the work and you don’t get to take the shot.’ I said that right to him. The reality is this is about Canada, not about me or not about Nash. It’s about winning. He’s fine, he’s a big boy, and he understands that.”

For the record, Nash did take the decision like a big boy. “It’s international rules, you can pick anybody,” he said. “If I was the coach I think I’d probably pick Crosby over me too.”

Did you give Sid a hard time after he missed? “No,” Nash said with a chuckle. “I will, though.”


 

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