Everything Else

Piggybacking off our look at Patrick Kane’s season, it’s always fun to see how scoring has jumped up in the league this year. By now you know this, but let’s add some detail to it.

Last year, only three players broke 100 points, topping out with Connor McDavid’s 108. This year, nine players are on track to hit the century mark. As we discussed with Kane, he and Kucherov are on the way to over 110 points, No one’s cracked that since Henrik Sedin in 2010 (which totally went well for him after that). Last year, no one topped 50 goals. This year, five guys have a chance at it, with Ovechkin and Kane being almost locks and Skinner, Draisaitl, and Point having a chance if they get on their horse.

Everyone would love to know the reason, and it seems pretty obvious. But follow my work and we’ll get there in the end. Where I’m kind of fascinated is that there are 13 players this season who have played over 30 games that are shooting over 20%. Last year there were four. So you see where this going.

The league-save percentage has dropped from .912 last year to .908 this year, which is the biggest drop seen since the season before and after the lockout. But as we know, back then there was a 30% increase in power plays, which led to a lower SV% simply because teams were killing off nearly six penalties per game (what?!). This year has actually seen a decrease in power play opportunities per team, from 3.04 last year to 3.03 this year. There’s basically no difference.

Which is why we don’t see a huge spike in power play production. Ok, Kucherov is in a class by himself with 39 power play points already, with the next highest total being 31. Last year, two players finished with more than 40 power play points (Kessel and Wheeler). Kucherov is obviously going to do so unless he has a stroke (and even then), and beyond that really only his teammates Stamkos and Point have a good shot at coming along for the ride.

So it seems most of the improvement is at evens. Last year, McDavid led the league in ES points with 84, and no one else had more than 66 (yeah ok he probably should have won the Hart again, huh?). This year, McDavid, Kane, and Kucherov are averaging just about an even-strength point per game, and a further four are on track to score more than 70 even-strength points per game.

So basically the argument comes down to whether it’s the new goalie pads leading to more holes for the league’s best snipers to find, or the crack down on slashing to open up more space and make it easier for players to get where they want to go. The fact that teams are averaging less shots per game this season than last (31.3 to 31.8 last year) would lean it more toward the goalies. And the fact that attempts per team, and scoring chances per team are a shade/tick down from last year would point to that as well. However, high-danger chances per team have gone up from 10.6 per 60 to 10.9. It’s about a 3% rise.

Which doesn’t sound like a lot. Teams averaged 9-10 high-danger chances per game last year, which means getting another one this year just about every three games, which if you carry it out it is another four to five goals per season.

So yeah, it’s the pads. But hey, it’s fun!

 

Everything Else

This generally happens every October. As we know, the NHL season tends to be wacky and fun and Seussian in the  first month as teams scramble to entrench themselves into their standings position. We know they pretty much have to because of how hard it is to make up ground late in the season, and the percentage of teams that are in the playoffs spots at Thanksgiving that stay there (just north 0f 75% as of last check). You can’t entrench by gaining one point. You need two. And you generally need to keep the other team from getting one. So teams actually go for it. If this is where you’d ask wouldn’t this be solved season-long if wins were worth three points you can just shove it because your logic has no place in the hockey world! Put your telescope away, Galileo! (He used one, right?)

So scoring is up so far. But is it simply that? Will teams pull back, combined with boredom, in December and beyond to give us the turgid, uninspiring morass we’ve come to know and…well, know? I’m not so sure.

The numbers are there. Teams are averaging 3.11 goals per game after 2.97 last year. Though this is just about the same jump we saw from two seasons ago to last, which was 2.77 to 2.97. Maybe it’s just the way things are going? That’s a bit simplistic, so let’s dive a little deeper.

There are four teams averaging over 35 shots per game, when no team managed it for the total of last year (topping the list are the Hurricanes who are averaging a simply bonkers 41 shots per game so far). However, only 22 teams are averaging over 30 shots per game, while 28 managed it last year. So the high-end, the more volatile selection, is higher. But overall there aren’t more shots being taken from last year. In fact, teams are averaging slightly less shots than last year, 31.3 to 31.8.

As far as overall attempts, there are five teams averaging over 65 attempts per 60 minutes at evens, and nine over 60. Last year, only five teams got over 60 per 60 (isn’t that neat?), and none over 65. So there are more teams attempting more shots, but that doesn’t mean that many are getting through. That would suggest there is more action, just not that much more important action.

Teams are getting faster and copying all the time, so you do see more teams trying to replicate what the Penguins, Knights, Predators have done over the past couple seasons. A couple teams have pivoted to more aggressive coaches. The Stars went from Ken Hitchcock to Jim Montgomery, and they’ve seen a slight uptick in both attempts and shots per game. Bill Peters went from Carolina to Calgary, but they’ve actually seen a downtick in both categories. His replacement in Raleigh, Rod Brind’Amour, certainly has not overseen a downtick. The Coyotes have changed their system, and Ottawa and Montreal at least have tweaked theirs.

The number that jumps out most so far though is that team SV% has dropped .912 to 908 this year. Some will attribute this to the new goalie pads, and that probably plays a role. Some will attribute it to some of the league’s better goalies getting off to slow starts, or not being around at all in the case of Corey Crawford or Roberto Luongo. Jonathan Quick has been abhorrent in LA, Cam Talbot is still stepping on his tongue in Edmonton, Marc-Andre Fleuy has been pretty woeful in Vegas (and really, who could have seen that coming?), Holtby terrible in DC as he was at the start of last year, Martin Jones has been bad, Sergei Bobrovsky worse, and Connor Hellebuyck has been mediocre (say it like Immortan Joe).

Still, they can’t all be off to slow starts, right? There must be something.

Combine that with how many teams simply whiffed on their goaltending decisions. Trusting Mike Smith in Calgary was always going to end in ennui. Jake Allen in St. Louis…well, you know what we’d write here. Did they really thing Carter Hutton would work in Buffalo? Jimmy Howard has been an anchor for a while, which is good for a team trying to bottom out like the Wings (wait, they’re doing what?). The decision to stick with Brian Elliot in Philly is why Gritty looks like that.

The amount of teams getting steady goaltending right now is pretty thin. The Rangers and Ducks are, and those teams both suck eggs. The Stars are getting good work from Ben Bishop. If you want to argue the Hawks now that Crow is back, I guess you can but we’ll need more than the three games Crow has gotten. Dubnynk is doing his normal thing, Kinkaid has been really good in New Jersey, and Varlamov has been a mutant in Colorado (not hard for him). Throw the Lightning, Predators, and Canucks on the list. Essentially, 10 teams are getting average goaltending at even-strength. One of them is Calgary that has Rittich making up for the toxic waste Mike Smith is leaving behind. Minnesota and Anaheim are getting incredible goaltending, but they’re also giving up the most shots in the game. So there are still goals to be had against them. Without their goaltending, the commissioner would have to step in and relegate them.

But that’s not all of it. Could it be the pressure and chances these goalies are asked to stand up against is higher? Yes, it appears that way. Currently, eight teams have an expected goals-against per 60 minutes over 2.8. Only one team did that last year, which was the Rangers. Still though, deeper you go it’s about the same. Nine teams had an xGA/60 last year over 2.5. This year that number is 11 (it always comes back to Nigel Tuffnel on this blog).  A difference to be sure, but not huge.

There clearly isn’t one answer to this. Everyone hopes it sticks around, though.

Everything Else

These days, I’m basically piggy-backing off the better hockey writers around because it’s late August and I can’t be bothered to think of anything myself. That will change next week when the calendar flips to September and we can really start to preview the upcoming season. It doesn’t feel like the season is about to start until the NFL starts, at least to me. But nothing gets you ready for the start of hockey season like Kaner in a Bears jersey, right?

So today, it’s basically a reaction to Down Goes Brown’s study of why scoring was so batshit crazy in the 80’s and then by the mid-90’s had completely arrested. Sean provides a multitude of reasons, from the difference in goalies, expansion, rules-relaxations, defensive systems that became successful, and all of these are correct in their own way.

That’s not really why I’m here today though, as I’d more like to look at whether or not there needs to be a clamoring for something of a return to those free-scoring ways.