Not too long ago there was a big debate on what to do about the NHL’s struggles regarding goal scoring. Not enough were being put in the net and the 2-1 hockey game was becoming the norm. This last season has shown us that the lack of goal scoring in the hockey has been resolved by itself.
The big debate was controversial. Shrink the padding of the goaltenders, make the nets larger, change the rules of faceoffs, call more penalties causing more powerplays or all of the above. So much discussion about such a controversial topic. No one wanted the sport of hockey to change but at the same time, a goal being scored is the most exciting aspect of the game.
In any team sport, points being scored is the ultimate summit of the competition. When a team scores a point, it’s a rush and that is what makes the game exciting. There are smaller more detailed aspects of a sport that also provide entertainment and excitement but, in the end, the spectators are there to see a team score. Some sports score more than others however, completing the difficult task of scoring a point is the ultimate goal.
Probably hockey’s biggest problem in selling the game to people outside of the hockey world is convincing them that although not a lot of points are scored in hockey, it is still an exciting game. When a basketball team is scoring 120 points and a hockey team is barely reaching 3 points, from the surface, it makes the excitement levels of these games seem skewed. This is an incorrect way to think about the entertainment value of anything but people are usually set in their ways.
The lack of goal scoring in the past is exactly that. In the past. According to HockeyReference.com, in this last NHL season, an average of 244 goals were scored per team. In 2017, 227 goals were scored. In 2015, 224 goals were scored. In the last ten years, 2016 was the lowest goals scored average at 222 goals per team which averages out to just over two and a half goals per game for one team.
Now of course, in the 2018 season there was a 31st team introduced to the mix which just happened to be a pretty good team, but the goals average is still the highest it has been at 2.97 since 2006 where it was 3.08.
So far in the 2018 playoffs, there have been 255 goals scored through the first round. This first round included 43 games which puts the goals scored average at 5.93. Nearly six goals per game in total. Further divided, this means about two goals per period.
In the playoffs a year prior, the first round saw only 202 goals through 42 games. With one less game, the 2017 first round saw 53 less goals putting the average at 4.80 goals per game putting the average per period at 1.60. That is a significant shift in the game of hockey itself considering only one less game was played which means something is being done differently.
The goalies clearly aren’t the ones to look at as they are playing the best hockey the game has ever seen. Goaltending has done nothing but improve throughout the decades putting hockey goaltenders at the top of the list when it comes to the most athletic people in the world.
However, in a playoff game featuring two of the best the NHL has to offer, Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck allowed four goals on 30 shots giving him a less than ideal .867 save percentage in that game but he still got the win.
At the other end, Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne who was a Conn Smythe candidate the year prior, allowed five goals on 43 shots giving him a very low .884 save percentage. The Jets ended up adding on two empty net goals to make it a 7-4 victory but regardless, an 11-goal game featuring two of the best goaltenders in the league was complete.
Although there are probably dozens of details to blame for the sudden explosion of goal scoring this season, the biggest one has to simply be the identity of the game. Hockey is becoming a more speed-oriented affair with grit and physicality taking the back seat. This isn’t to say that hockey is no longer physical but speed has taken center stage.
The strategy of “forecheck the opposition into oblivion” doesn’t cut it anymore. As time goes by, the franchises that can best prepare for a fast game are the ones that are going to see the most success. Players who are fast can create plays out of nothing and in turn create scoring opportunities.
Connor McDavid is considered to be the fastest player in the NHL and he led the league in points this season with a whopping 108. In addition, considered to be extremely undersized, Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames stands at 5’9”, 150 pounds yet he managed to rack up 84 points including a career high 60 assists.
The speed of the NHL is creating havoc for defenses and this could be the greatest attribution to all of the goal scoring. It’s not so much the shots that are being thrown at the net are just impossible to stop but the speed of the play prior to said shot isn’t giving goaltenders as much time to adjust to the play therefore making it more difficult to become set and prepared for that quick snapshot on net.
This is just a general example but a realistic one that explains why teams with faster players are finding themselves more successful.
Regardless of what is actually causing all of this goal scoring, it is a fun way to play hockey. Branded as the fastest game on ice, it actually is fast now and that’s creating more offense. In years past, a three-goal lead essentially meant the game was over. Now, that’s not at all the case. This speed-oriented style of hockey is a lot of fun and builds a far more competitive structure than we’ve seen in recent years. It’s an exciting time to be a hockey fan.