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Can we stop using anomalies to complain about NHL goal scoring?

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

Ken Campbell of The Hockey News wonders if we’re in another “dead puck era.”

Let’s start with the obvious: No, we’re not, because we don’t have players waterskiing behind each other with their sticks on every play. The dead puck era was an era of unmitigated obstruction that fueled defensive systems that, in turn, choked the life out of offensive creativity. I should know: I’m a Devils fan.

In fact, the game is so free flowing and fast that players have considered asking for more obstruction to make it safer.

But absent the “dead puck” boogeyman, Campbell’s point is that scoring is down. At least for individual stars that, for the third straight season, will only produce one 100-point players by season’s end: Sidney Crosby’s on pace for 108 points.

To further his point, Campbell writes:

The league, meanwhile, has produced an average of 5.37 goals per game this season – not including the goal that is awarded to the team that wins the shootout – which is right around where it has been the past two seasons, but again significantly behind the 6.05 goals per game that were scored in ’05-06 and only slightly ahead of the dismal season of 2003-04 when only 5.14 goals were scored per game.

Full stop.

The 2005-06 season was the anomaly to end all anomalies. It was a transition year for teams built to win a certain way that now had to reinvent themselves. The rules enforcement was so draconian that we were treated to open ice not seen since the 1980s. As far as total goals scored over 82 games, the 2005–06 regular season was the highest-scoring in NHL history.

Via, this is what happened in the post-lockout year, vs. in the years before and after it:

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The average total goals per game in 2004 was 5.136. An average of 5.37 isn’t “slightly ahead” of that number, it’s statistically significantly ahead of that number … unless you’re comparing it to the bat-crap crazy carnival of offense from 2005-06, only the second time in 20 years the NHL has been over six goals per game.

Again: THE POST LOCKOUT YEAR WAS AN ANOMALY. You’d figure Campbell might get that in his next point of analysis, but …

The NHL as a whole is on pace to have 11,632 power play opportunities this season, compared to 14,390 in 2005-06. That’s a difference of 2,588 power plays or more than two per game. So let’s say the average team in the NHL scores on 17 percent of its power plays. That’s about 440 goals, or more than a third of a goal per game right there.

An aside: I have no idea where 11,632 power play opportunities comes from. Through Sunday, I had 6,773 power play opportunities for teams per I have 8,133 opportunities for 2011-12. This season’s pace might actually bring us more power plays than we had two seasons ago. But not over 11,000.

Continuing on …

This season, the Washington Capitals are on pace to lead the league with 296 power play opportunities. That will mark the first time in 16 seasons that the team leading the NHL in power plays has had fewer than 300 opportunities with the man advantage.

It’s a number that has been dropping for the better part of six years and when you compare it to 2005-06, the Boston Bruins had the fewest power plays in the league at 300. That year, nine teams had 500 or more power play opportunities, with the Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes leading the way with 541 each.

That’s correct. The following season, after the NHL stopping instructing its officials to call penalties at a re-educating pace? The Pittsburgh Penguins led the league with 463. By 2008-09, we didn’t have a team crack the 400 power-play mark.

Again, the 400 power-play mark means that teams are getting 4.88 power plays per game. The 500 power play mark means that teams are spending at least 12 minutes per game on the man advantage, barring their scoring on those chances.

Thing is, I agree with Campbell here. I’d like to see power plays given more teeth, present more chances to light the lamp to star players, giving them gaudy stats. Preferably, I’d like to see two-minute majors – maybe really make things interesting by allowing teams to end their two minutes in hell if they score a shorthanded goal. I’d want this a billion times more than I’d want 12 power plays per game, which is what you get if both teams average 500 per season and we use 2005-06 as the paradigm.

The NHL has some game flow problems that can be corrected. Maybe regulations on blocking shots that’d otherwise become scoring chances? Maybe incentivizing the third period with three-point games?

But this notion that 2005-06 should be the model for anything is nuts. There were too many power plays, too many maddeningly inconsistent calls, two many teams with wobbly legs like a newborn foal to compete.

Besides: Isn’t this obsession about goals missing the mark? The best NHL is free-flowing 5-on-5 with chances galore. I love the catharsis of a lit lamp as much as anyone, but give me teams trading chances for 60 minutes and I’m just as happy. Unless, of course, it goes to a shootout. Then I am sad.

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