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If you listen to the talk coming from NHL circles these days, you’d think that every game on the ice is ending in a 1-0 score and that no one – NO ONE – is scoring goals.
For the last week or so, the most talked about topic of conversation across the hockey world has been how to increase goal scoring, with the most pundits landing on a couple shared areas that could be improved: shrinking goalie equipment and calling the game a little closer.
Both are absolutely valid and would likely contribute to a few more pucks being put in the back of the next, but is there really as great a scoring crisis as fans are being led to believe?
The two games played on Wednesday night ended in 4-3 scores and while four goalies pitched shutouts on Tuesday night (where their teams scored a total of 10 goals), you also had a 4-3 game between Calgary and Florida, a 5-3 game between the Jets and Wild and Nashville beat Ottawa 7-5, presenting some balance to those clean sheets that were turned in.
Last year was the first time since the lost season of 2004-05 that a player won the Art Ross Trophy without breaking the 100-point plateau, as Jamie Benn took home the award with a paltry 87 points. That had only happened three other times since the lockout shortened season of 1994-95 and before that, points were being put on the board at an alarming rate.
Right now, there are 18 players in the NHL averaging a point-per-game or better, and that’s not including the likes of Leon Draisaitl, who has 10 points in six games for the Edmonton Oilers.
Over the last decade, that’s about average for the course of a season, with there being years where as few as five players finished the year scoring at better than a point-per-game clip, so it’s not like things have suddenly bottomed out this season. Even in the “Light the Lamp” days of the ‘90s, it’s not like there were 50 guys in the league tallying 85-plus points; you’d have 20-30 guys, max, with the elite group going well over the century mark.
While the increased size of goalie equipment certainly plays a part in the decrease from the days of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux averaging two points per game or greater, a big part of it is simply that players on the whole have gotten bigger and better.
Patrick Roy was considered big for a goalie when he arrived in the NHL standing 6’2” tall; that’s less than the average height of netminders today. Guys like Mike Vernon or Andy Moog wouldn’t get a sniff in the NHL today because they’re just too small, while the two goalies that won eight of 10 Stanley Cups in the ‘80s – Billy Smith and Grant Fuhr – both stood 5’10, a good five inches shorter than the average NHL goalie of today.
Forwards and defensemen are bigger, stronger and faster than their counterparts from bygone eras and their conditioning and skill levels are way up too. As much as you might think the third-line center or fifth defensemen on your favourite team is a bum, he’s infinitely better than the guy that held down that role on the same team 10 and 20 years ago.
Hockey is always more entertaining when it’s wide open and goals are being scored in great numbers, but the days of having 20-30 players collecting 35+ goals a season are gone and they have been for a while, so this sudden declaration that something has to be done to save hockey from the “No Scoring Doldrums” feels like an overreaction.
Make the changes everyone seems to agree that make sense, but at the same time, just accept that 50-seasons are going to be scarce and scoring races to see who can get to 120 points are a thing of the past.
Games of the Weekend
Home and Home: The Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders play a home-and-home series on Friday and Sunday that should be entertaining and intriguing. Montreal has survived Carey Price’s absence thanks to strong play from Mike Condon, while the Isles look to get back on track with captain John Tavares back in the lineup after missing three games at the start of the month.