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Plays Off The Ice Lead To NHL’s Uptick In Scoring

USA TODAY Sports

New rules mean new reasons to celebrate offense in the NHL.

The NHL’s Centennial season is met with more than just celebration. We saw an insane amount of penalties in the pre-season, and watched players react to the cracking down of the rule changes. Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins called them an “absolute joke.”  Breaking down the three biggest changes this season, we have seen them already have direct effects on games.

The Crackdown on Slashing

The NHL’s quarter report has shown a 12.4% increase in goals from last year, and the most since the 2005-06 season. Premier goal scorers such as Taylor Hall have endorsed the changes to slashing rules and credited them for the increase in scoring.

“I think the slashing rule has created a lot more open ice,” New Jersey Devils winger Taylor Hall told USA TODAY Sports. “When you are in scoring situations, you are not getting the extra little hack that used to impede you.”

The crew at Hockey Central Tonight show examples in the video below of slashing calls on the “softer” side. What also should be taken into account is the newfound hesitant nature of players in the neutral zone due to the fear of being called for slashing. Breakaways like these show that players are becoming more hesitant getting their stick in on defenders.


TSN also noted that we saw an astounding 147 slashing calls through the first 57 games of the season when we hadn’t seen more than 34 total through the same mark in any of the last five years. 

Faceoff Violations

The NHL’s quick trigger to throw out offending centermen on faceoffs has led to game-changing plays in the circle. Even Defenseman P.K. Subban had to take an important faceoff in overtime against Carolina just a few nights ago (and won it, too). Overall, 11 different defensemen have taken a draw so far this season.

Last 5 Games Table
Date Tm Opp FOW FOL FO%
2017-11-26NSH@CARL-SO10100.0
Provided by Hockey-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/28/2017.

The big issue here is the threat of a penalty. Not only are wingers that don’t practice faceoffs coming into the circle, but they know an early jump can land their team a man down for two minutes. This leads to a lot of conservative play and easy faceoff wins for the opposition.

David Backes of the Bruins, who is also a representative for players on the rules committee, shared what he was thinking when he defended the addition of the rule:

“…the guys who are great on face-offs will still be great on face-offs. It’s just a little bit of an adjustment. They’ll probably learn how to cheat a little bit on this one, too, and Bergie (Patrice Bergeron) will probably take 1,200 draws this year and win 800 of them and he’ll be a Selke Award winner. We’ll all have a hug maybe after this next session and life will go on.”

Backes notes that centermen who are historically great, such as his teammate Patrice Bergeron, will benefit from guys jumping early. Looking at this year’s list of players in the top of the FO% category (minimum 100 FOs Won) we can compare to last year’s top 10 (minimum 300 FOs won)

2016 Results
Rk Player Pos FOW FOL FO%
1Patrice BergeronC81449462.2
2Matt DucheneC51631562.1
3Antoine VermetteC55934162.1
4Jordan StaalC53137258.8
5Ryan KeslerC73253257.9
6Ryan O’ReillyC71852257.9
7Bryan LittleC49637257.1
8Martin HanzalC61747056.8
9Tyler BozakC64049556.4
10Jay BeagleRW46535956.4
Provided by Hockey-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/28/2017.

2017 Results as of 11/28
RkPlayerPosFOWFOLFO%
1

Antoine Vermette

C

230

138

62.5

3

Ryan O’Reilly

C

276

169

62.0

6

Jay Beagle

RW

140

98

58.8

15

Patrice Bergeron

C

153

116

56.9

18

Matt Duchene

C

143

110

56.5

Provided by Hockey-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 11/28/2017.

We can see that only five of last year’s top 10 players are even in the top 20, and although it is only about a quarter of the way through the season, some players seem to be getting the rules better than others.

Offsides Challenges Gone Wrong

Since the NHL implemented a coach’s challenge into the game, the referees have gone to the off-ice officials to take a look at 205 challenges for offsides in the last two years. Last year saw a decline, when only a 33.3% of calls were overturned as opposed to 39.8% the year before. 

A team that challenges a play for offsides, and loses, will receive a minor penalty, when previously they would lose only their timeout. The turn of having a goal taken off the board versus giving your opponent a power play right after they score is a huge momentum shifter. We saw this rule take a game by the horns earlier this season, as the Philadelphia Flyers went to the locker room shocked. 

This goal by Scott Hartnell was the one that introduced the hockey world to the new offsides challenge rule. As Hartnell tied up the game on a two-man advantage, Flyers coach Dave Hakstol elected to challenge the play for offsides. When the call was upheld, the Flyers were on the hook for another minor penalty. Seconds later, Filip Forsberg sent the Nashville Predators home with the game winner. Two goals in less than 90 seconds for the Predators due to a close offsides call, a gutsy challenge, and two goals helped by two separate five-on-three power plays.

Image titleChristopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Is More Scoring Possible?

More power plays mean more scoring opportunities, and we have seen a small rise year-over-year in regards to the league average on power play conversion rates. Over the last five years, we can see goals per game, power play goals per game, power play opportunities per game, and power play and penalty kill percentage averages.

League Averages Table
Rk Season
Lg GP G PP PPO PP% PK%
12017-18NHL3663.010.683.4119.9080.10
22016-17NHL12302.770.572.9919.1080.90
32015-16NHL12302.710.583.1118.6681.34
42014-15NHL12302.730.573.0618.6681.34
52013-14NHL12302.740.593.2717.8982.11
Provided by Hockey-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/28/2017.

While power play goals are accounting for 22.6% of all goals scored this year, and that is the highest among seasons shown, it only beats other years by a percent or two. More alarming, is the .21 goals per game have come short-handed this so far season, almost 25% higher than last year’s .15.

Simply put, the new rules are helping teams in all aspects of the game. Power play goals are not overwhelmingly making up the majority of team’s scoring as compared to previous seasons, and the new rules seem to be helping teams score short-handed as well, with new slashing rules making a defensive player back down on a short-handed breakaway, knowing he could easily negate his team’s chance on the man advantage.

Either way, high scoring is a welcome addition to any sport, and the NHL should be no different. It remains to be seen if this is just an adjusting period and players will change their style, or if the scoring is here to stay.

Edited by Jeremy Losak.

SQuiz
Which defenseman took the most faceoffs in the 2016-2017 season with three?
Created 11/28/17
  1. Drew Doughty
  2. Alexander Edler
  3. Alex Pietrangelo
  4. Brady Skjei

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