What We Learned: Why are so many NHLers scoring so much?

Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov, right, of Russia, is congratulated by center Steven Stamkos after scoring against the Los Angeles Kings during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov, right, of Russia, is congratulated by center Steven Stamkos after scoring against the Los Angeles Kings during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

You’ve seen the headlines: Scoring is up. Great news for the league! Everyone likes goals.

Teams are scoring about an extra 10 percent more goals this season — 3.02 per game, which is a quarter of a goal more than last year’s 2.77. The league-average save percentage is also down three points, and teams are averaging an extra shot and a half a night.

If these trends hold up, this will be the most goals per game since the 2005-06 season, and teams will be shooting more than they have since they started formally tracking shots on goal stats in the early 1980s.

But it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that, so far, a lot of this added offense seems to be coming in the form of referees simply calling more penalties. Efficiency percentages are actually down a little bit from 2016-17 to this point, but the extra 1.2 power plays being given out every night is resulting in power play scoring taking up a slightly larger chunk of overall goals in the NHL.

Of course, it’s early in the season, and it seems as though once new rules emphases go into place, it takes a month or two for either players to get used to the new standard, or for refs to stop calling the stuff they were emphasizing to start the season (and probably, it’s far more the latter than the former).

What’s interesting about this only slight uptick in power play points per game is how things seem to be distributed throughout the lineup. It stands to reason that if more penalties are being called, more higher-end players are going to score more points, since that’s who’s getting the power play time. But here’s the thing: The increase in top-end players’ scoring hasn’t been nearly as marginal as the overall scoring in the league has. In fact, it’s been a scoring explosion for top-end players.

At about this point last season, 23 players with at least eight games played had scored at least a point a game, with Sidney Crosby (13 points in nine games) leading the pack in points per game at 1.44. That number would only tie him for fourth right now.

In fact, 45 players with at least eight games played are sitting on at least a point per game through Sunday. That’s a nearly 100 percent increase over the number that scored so proficiently just a year ago. And on average, every team has almost 1.5 guys scoring a point per game.

So the question is obvious: Does the increase in power plays alone explain things?

Let’s expand those numbers out to the top 50 scorers in the league last season and this season, and you have a jump in scoring among top guys that goes from an average of 0.97 per game to 1.11; that is to say, there’s been a 14 percent increase in scoring among top-50 guys while goals are up just 10 percent or so. Noticeable difference, but teams aren’t getting a huge increase in their total power play time as a percentage of total TOI. However, the top 50 scorers are obviously getting more time on the power play as a percentage of their overall TOI than they did last season (17.4 percent versus 15.7 percent).

In fact, average points per 60 on the power play is actually down for this group as a whole, by a third of a point per hour.

So it’s tough to figure out why, all of a sudden, everyone seems to be scoring a ton more points, at least on a league-wide level. Individually, while fewer guys are scoring at least half their points on the power play, a lot more are scoring at least 25 percent that way, and that will certainly help to make a difference.

But here’s what’s interesting: Everything is happening more often at 5-on-5 as well. More attempts, more unblocked attempts, more shots on goal, more scoring chances, more high-danger chances, and of course, more goals. So it’s not just the power play that’s driving scoring.

A potential reason for this, which is hard to actually test because of the various machinations that extend out from the possible source of the increases, is talent dilution. If you bring in another team and take 30 players from all the other clubs in the league, it stands to reason that the league would, collectively, get a little bit worse as a whole. Guys who weren’t NHLers last year are, suddenly, being thrust into those roles, and while that probably doesn’t explain why there are twice as many point-per-game players, it could certainly explain why basically every kind of shot event is more common now.

But previous expansion had been a mixed bag over the full 82-game schedule; when the Predators came into the league in 1998-99, scoring actually dropped from the year before, and the number of shots allowed per game ticked up slightly. However, the number of power play opportunities also dropped sharply, so that might explain the issue. The next year, when the Thrashers showed up, scoring jumped again despite an even bigger dip in power plays and a decline in shooting. And the year after that, when Columbus and Minnesota showed up, power play opportunities surged by about one per game, but shooting declined a little, and scoring went up by a hundredth of a goal per game.

Of course, that also came at a time when the Dead Puck Era was really getting into full swing, goalies were getting better (the league-average save percentage went from .898 to .908 in four seasons), and expansion teams were largely horrible.

Now, it’s hard to go back and see if there were any “rules emphasis” changes that affected things in the early goings of those seasons, and it’s hard to predict how that all holds up over the full 82 this year. But the fact that Vegas got to take actual decent players from other teams — not that it always did — and they came into the league at a time when refs were far more intent on calling penalties probably opened up a different set of opportunities for a lot of higher-end players.

It’s tough to think you could point at any one issue here and say, “This is why so many guys are scoring more now,” but the landscape of the league has changed so much in one offseason — and it’s still so early — that it’s reasonable to expect the unexpected a little bit more than you otherwise might have.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Being one of the very few teams to hand it to Tampa in any game this year really is something to be proud of.

Arizona Coyotes: At what point do we say this team that improved so much on paper this summer, but sucks now, is failing because Rick Tocchet isn’t a good coach? When are we allowed to have that conversation? I agree it’s not “now,” but that’s my hypothesis.

Boston Bruins: This team really is struggling under the weight of all these injuries. It doesn’t help that they have just about zero effective cover.

Buffalo Sabres: Here’s another team with a “maybe their new coach is just bad” problem.

Calgary Flames: He’s just a little guy but he’s so good and pure!

Carolina Hurricanes: Now Bill Peters, there’s a good coach. (I think.)

Chicago Blackhawks: Change is coming for this team. An OT comeback against a struggling team probably doesn’t change that much.

Colorado Avalanche: That sounds just about right.

Columbus Blue Jackets: I mean, obviously, get over it,” but this team probably does still need an offensive upgrade somewhere. Not sure where you get one now.

Dallas Stars: Man, how often do teams give up just 14 shots in this day and age? Wild that this was a team with acknowledged defensive problems, hey?

Detroit Red Wings: Detroit’s shootout loss on Saturday was their first in 13 tries. Going 12-1 in what is effectively a coin flip is crazy.

Edmonton Oilers: Do you guys think maybe the Oilers aren’t good at defense? Pretty crazy!

Florida Panthers: The Panthers really do look like slump-busters this year, huh?

Los Angeles Kings: I gotta say: 5-2 was a kindness. Tampa could have won this game by 100.

Minnesota Wild: Jason Zucker has six goals in his last three games. Devan Dubnyk has two straight shutouts. In my opinion? Pretty good way to win consistently.

Montreal Canadiens: So weird that it seemed like the Canadiens couldn’t buy a win early on, and now they keep winning even in really weird circumstances.

Nashville Predators: Kyle Turris, welcome to Nashville.

New Jersey Devils: Not really that surprised to see Cory Schneider being, y’know, good again.

New York Islanders: Still tough to know what to make of this club. Some nights it looks like they’re an expansion team, and others it’s like, “Oh yeah we can beat the best teams in the league pretty easily.” Find a balance, guys!

New York Rangers: Nice little run for the Rangers here. How long can it last?

Ottawa Senators: Oh great, here we go.

Philadelphia Flyers: Not hard to forget about Nolan Patrick this season. Kid can’t catch a break.

Pittsburgh Penguins: If you’re asking me, I think this team is bad now. That is the only explanation for why a team with this much talent is losing a lot. There’s nothing else it could be.

San Jose Sharks: Uhh, Grind out?” They won…. 5-0? Over Vancouver? Seems like it wasn’t that hard.

St. Louis Blues: If you say you have a “silent confidence,” no you don’t.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Everyone ought to be terrified of this team. They’re doing literally everything right these days. It’s awesome to watch.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Wasn’t it only like week ago when we were saying, “This team is so bad!” What changed besides nothing, do you think?

Vancouver Canucks: I’m starting to think this team just isn’t good, but hey, draw your own conclusions.

Vegas Golden Knights: This is, for sure, something to keep an eye on, but the Knights’ home splits are pretty bad except to say they have a 109 PDO at home. Think that holds up all year? C’mon, dawg.

Washington Capitals: Is it actually good if a guy who couldn’t make your team in October is now on your top line? I’m gonna say no.

Winnipeg Jets: Well, that was fast.

Play of the weekend

Yeah it’s only the Red Wings, but good lord!

Gold Star Award

Aaron Dell had a 41-save shutout and that seems good to have.

Minus of the Weekend

This will always be the best kind of hit in the NHL.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “SamSteelFan4Ever” wants to solve some injury woes:

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins ($6 million)

Jakob Silfverberg, Sami Vatanen ($8.6 million)


What if I were to purchase fast food and disguise it as my own cooking?

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)