With 3.1 seconds remaining in the second period of a 1-1 tie Wednesday night, Wayne Simmonds angled toward Toronto goaltender Jonathan Bernier and was hauled down from the side by Leafs defenseman Paul Ranger. It seemed an obvious enough minor penalty, and when referee Francois St. Laurent gestured for a penalty shot, it raised more than a few eyebrows.
A gift, right? Well, not so fast. Bernier and Simmonds were once teammates in Los Angeles, used to practice breakaways against each other almost daily. "I shot on him a million times," Simmonds said. "You shoot on a goalie a lot of times, you change your move a bunch of times. He probably knows some of my moves. I don't know if that went into it, but it doesn't make a difference now. It's over."
Simmonds tried five-hole. Bernier squeezed it out. Instead of regaining the lead they had surrendered earlier in the period, the Flyers went into their dressing room still tied. Instead of a deflating goal on the second night of a back-to-back, the Leafs went into their room well aware they could steal two points with one stellar period.
And so they did. But what if the option was available to decline the penalty shot in favor of a two-minute man advantage? I doubt it would be employed very often, but Wednesday's game might have been one of those times. A tired team on the road, the goalie's familiarity with the shooter, and the Flyers' struggles the last few seasons in shootout games are just some of the factors that suggested an alternative path. Although it had scored only once in six tries, the Flyers power play had created nine quality chances up to that point, and would be operating on a clean sheet of ice.
At the very least it would have further tired out an already tired hockey team, taken away the adrenaline push from Bernier's penalty shot save, and made the Leafs third-period two-goal surge less likely.
"He called a penalty shot," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said when I asked. "It is what it is. Wayne's one of the guys who does a pretty good job for us. I think he's 33 percent on breakaways. It didn't happen this time."
Simmonds attempted the 47th penalty shot in Flyers history. They are now 19-for-47 (40.4 percent) on penalty shots in their history.
Granted, it's a sticky spot to put a coach in, making him choose. Pick the power play, and it could be viewed by Simmonds as lack of confidence. Although in this case, if not most when you would be tempted to opt out, Simmonds would likely see the logic. Even at 33 percent, Simmonds chances are only slightly higher than a mid-level power play and again, the Flyers were getting numerous chances on it Wednesday night.
I'm not advocating opting out frequently or even infrequently. But I think it should be at a coach's disposal, the way NFL coaches can choose to decline a penalty as a strategy. At the very least, it would add, not subtract, to a close game's intrigue.
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