Believe it or not, goal scoring is up in the NHL through the first few weeks.
Through 57 games this season, NHL games are averaging 5.65 goals per game as opposed to the 5.46 that was averaged over the course of the shortened 2012-13 season. While not a significant increase, it is still noticeable enough to take note of.
I’ve attributed it to a couple specific factors. One, the new goaltending rules are likely having a slight effect on the play of goalies around the league. While the impact of the new pads and stick paddles may have only contributed to a goal here or there, I’m sure there will be a slight uptick this year thanks to them.
The second factor is that it seems that the referees have been enforcing penalties at a slightly higher rate than they have in the past couple years. While the numbers are again indicating a small uptick, the difference between last year’s numbers (3.33) and this year (3.61) is significant enough over a full season to make a difference. Between the additional power play opportunities and smaller pads, there is a clear opportunity for more goals to be scored.
Other new rules such as the shallower nets have also been instituted to help promote goal scoring, but the power play opportunities strike me as the most telling.
As was seen in 2005-06 with the crackdown on obstruction and stick infractions, goal scoring skyrocketed along with power play opportunities. The same can been seen here, on a smaller scale, in the 13-14 season. So long as the referees maintain their strict stance on penalties, the trend should continue to rise.
The best part of this is that these changes do not negatively impact the integrity of the game. While fans of the teams being called for more penalties may be up in arms, this is nothing more than a stricter enforcement of previously standing rules.
My lone worry is that the goal scoring difference will plateau or even regress back to the average it has been at the past few years. Slightly altering goalie equipment removing depth from the nets doesn’t change the way this awesome game is played. When serious changes start coming – like a ringette line, bigger nets and other more significant gimmicks – is when fans will really start to have a problem.
NHL fans are very particular and have a specific reality they like to see maintained. Drastic changes to that reality would be taken much like Wayne and Garth adjust to their TV set basement in Wayne’s World. Not well.
It’s exciting seeing a few more higher scoring games to help placate those who are desperate for more scoring. My personal preference is a game that finishes anywhere from 3-2 to 4-3 as you typically get the best of everything. There is enough goal scoring in a five-to-seven goal game that keeps everyone interested for the duration while also allowing for strong goaltending. Very high scoring games often come at the expense of the goalie and general team defense. And just because there are nine goals scored, the entertainment value can be limited.
That hasn’t been the case this season and I’m hopeful that the current trend will continue. Should that be the case perhaps we’ll go a season or two without needing to discuss some of the out-of-the-box ideas drummed up in the name of goal scoring.