After getting a few looks at the NHL’s new 3-on-3 overtime format during the preseason, hockey fans were treated to the first official helping of extra hockey during Thursday night’s contest between the Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning. It was everything they could have hoped for, and then some. It was basically hockey on steroids. Or drugs.
All that extra space on the ice led to thrilling fast-paced, end-to-end hockey that resulted in great scoring opportunities and even better saves for both teams. Breakaways and odd-man rushes came aplenty, one even resulted in a penalty shot that was ultimately saved by the Lightning’s Ben Bishop.
But aside from providing the “hockey on drugs” experience, the biggest factor in changing from 4-on-4 to 3-on-3 in overtime was to cut down on the number of games decided by shootout this season. While a bunch of great scoring opportunities were denied in the extra frame, Jason Garrison’s breakaway game-winning goal made sure that the skills competition would not be necessary.
While the small sample size seems to indicate fans are going to love the new OT format, it’s not exactly a hit with the league’s goaltenders so far. That’s not exactly surprising, either, considering those poor souls are basically being forced to stand downrange as a barrage of scoring chances are fired their way.
Is it a “gong show?” Maybe, but it’s an awesome gong show. I say the 3-on-3 stays.