Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Paul on 02/25/13 at 08:32 PM ET
from Mike Sielski of the Wall Street Journal,
A willowy 28-year-old center for the Islanders, Nielsen was waiting to take his team's second shootout attempt during a game against the Rangers earlier this month. While Nielsen lingered at center ice, he said later, he set his mind to outsmarting goaltender Martin Biron—the two engaging in an unseen cat-and-mouse game that doesn't exist in regulation play but has defined Nielsen's career.
Over 355 games with the Islanders, Nielsen has 56 goals—his value is derived mainly from his conscientious defensive play. After scoring a career-high 17 goals last season, he's managed just two in 19 games this year. But whenever the Islanders find themselves in a game that's tied after overtime—so far this season, the Rangers game is the only one that has been—Nielsen morphs into their most important and dangerous player. He has scored on 24 of his 39 shootout tries. That success rate of 61.5% is nearly twice the league average (33%) and is the highest of any active player who has at least 10 shootout goals.
Nielsen's proficiency in shootouts is due at least in part to a signature tactic that he's mastered over his seven-year career. After picking up the puck with an initial burst of speed, he'll downshift as he approaches the opposing goaltender, cruising on his skates, giving no indication of what he'll do. He then makes a single sharp, explosive move, shifting the puck to his backhand and either sliding or lifting it through whatever sliver of space the goalie reveals.
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