Although NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hates to deal in "snapshots," I thought there were two recently that illustrated just about everything that is good and bad about the quality of play in the NHL.
They were provided on two different nights, this past Tuesday (Dec. 18) and Thursday (Dec. 20), which were both busy nights in the NHL. Dec. 18, there were 11 games on the docket; two nights later there were nine.
And they provide, I think, a telling portrayal of all hockey can be at its best, and all it can be at its worst.
Take a look:
GOALS PER GAME
Of the 11 games the night of Dec. 18, just one of them, a 6-2 Atlanta Thrashers victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, produced more than five goals. The average goals per game that night, not including the bogus goal awarded for winning the shootout, was just 4.54.
Of the nine games two nights later, four of them produced more than five goals. Two of them produced nine goals, one of them eight and another seven. Included in that flurry was Marian Gaborik's five-goal performance, the first in the NHL in 11 years.
The big picture: When the NHL made its triumphant return amid a slew of rule changes and lots of excitement, teams scored an average of 6.05 goals per game, not including the shootout goal. Last season, that average fell to 5.76 and after 510 games this season – roughly 40 percent of the campaign – that average had tumbled to 5.47.
There were three of them in 11 games Dec. 18 and none in nine games two nights later.
The big picture: The NHL is on pace for 154 shutouts, slightly up from the 147 from last season and way up from the 116 of 2005-06. However, things aren't nearly as bad as the season before the lockout, when the league chalked up a record 191 shutouts.
The 11 games played on Dec. 18 produced just three lead changes; while the nine played Dec. 20 had a total of nine.
The big picture: When people talk about the dearth of excitement in NHL games, not many talk about lead changes, but it is an enormous issue in how much drama a game has. If a team has almost a 70 percent chance or winning after it scores the first goal, how exciting is that? If there is so little hope the complexion of the game is going to change and a team shuts it down defensively after scoring first, the game becomes far less compelling.
Unfortunately, in this respect, things look to be going the way of the pre-lockout days of the dead puck era. In 510 games this season, there were 217 lead changes, which puts the league on pace for 523, two fewer than there were in 2003-04. By contrast, there were 598 lead changes last season and 642 in 2005-06.
One of 11 games went beyond the regulation 60 minutes Dec. 18, two of nine Dec. 20.
The big picture: Through 510 games, 91 have gone into overtime, which projects out to 219 for the season. That would represent the lowest total since 1997-98. There were 281 extra-time games each of the past two seasons. Despite the low number of overtimes, there were 58 shootouts this season, which puts the league on pace for almost the same number of shootouts, 140 this season, compared to 145 last season and 164 the season before. That lends credence to the notion that when teams do manage to reach overtime, they're playing for the shootout more than ever before.
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