In a recent conversation, it was pointed out to Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury that players from Finland tend to do well in shootouts.
In reply, Fleury quipped, "They can Finnish."
Horatio Caine-esque one-liners aside, Finns have established a pretty good history in shootouts since the NHL adopted them as a way to determine winners and losers coming out of the 2004-05 lockout. Players such as Petteri Nummelin, Miiko Koivu and even former Penguins agitator Jarkko Ruutu have shown an ability to bury the puck at the end of games.
Few players, regardless of nationality, have done it more often than more Penguins forward Jussi Jokinen. Having won games for the Stars, Lightning, Hurricanes and now the Penguins, Jokinen trails only Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk (33) and Minnesota's Zach Parise (32) in career shootout scoring with 31 goals.
Acquired in a trade from the Hurricanes April 3, Jokinen, a native of Kalajoki, Finland, didn't take long to show off his shootout skillset in Pittsburgh as he scored the winning goal with a forehand move against all-star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in a 2-1 home victory against the Rangers, April 5:
Recently, Jokinen talked about his abilities in the shootout and what has led to his success:
At what point did coaches in Dallas identify you as a player who could be used it in this area?
"I think right away. I think it helped me that I got to the NHL after the lockout in 2005. That same rule was already in place in Finland the last two years so I was kind of already familiar with that and practicing shootouts a lot. Then in the training camp, we had a lots of those shootout practices and I think I scored a lot. Then the coach used me in the preseason games. I went three for three in the preseason. Had pretty good success that first year, the first couple of years and after that, I go pretty much every time."
Many NHL teams practice shootout moves on a regular basis these days. Is that pretty common in Europe?
"Yeah. Pretty much every team does it. From when you’re 10 years old to your pro team. You just have to work your moves and kind of prepare yourself. Those points are so big nowadays. Obviously I take a lots of pride in being good at the shootouts."
What is the most important aspect of taking a shootout goal?
"I think it changes a lot with the player. I think confidence is the biggest thing. Have confidence in yourself that you’re going to score. If it’s 20,000 people cheering your or 20,000 people booing on you, just have confidence in yourself. I like to scout goalies a little bit. After that, it’s a little mental battle against that goalie. It’s kind of fun. Decide what you want you, have confidence in that an stick with your plan."
Do you have to mix your shots up in order to not be predictable?
"You try to keep them guessing as much as you can. That’s the mental battle. That’s the fun part. If they go, ‘Okay, Jokinen has done that [move] five in a row. So he can’t do it any more.’ Should I do it still or should I change it up? It’s so much fun, that mental battle."
Has your success in shootouts added to your value as an NHL player?
"It’s tough to say. Maybe a little bit. Some. Those points are so big. It can come down to that, how many points you get out of the shootout. If you get two or four, that might be the difference in making the playoffs or not. Maybe the first four or five years (after the 2004-05 lockout), I don’t think teams didn’t realize that. Now … every team kind of realizes how important those shootouts are. I think some. It’s tough to say. Some coaches and some [general managers] can answer that better."
What's the scouting report on Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun?
"I think against Fleury – I just spoke to Marc about that - I think we have gone maybe at least six times. Maybe more. I’ve scored some goals on him and he’s made some saves on me. Against Tomas … I’m not sure. Maybe one and I didn’t scores. For me, it’s always a little bit tougher against right-handed goalies. I’d rather go against left because you can’t get too much practice time against a lot right-handed goalies. Now I have Tomas, I can practice against him but it’s tougher to go against right-handed goalies."
(Photos: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images and Lynne Sladky/Associated Press)