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November 2, 2011
The Blue Line
Why Scoring Is Down

by Matthew Coller

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Remember when the NHL returned after the Lockout and we were sold a New World Order? Clutching and grabbing were supposed to be cast off to Siberia, the days of the dominant goalie were headed the way of the glow puck, and it wouldn't be long before the next 60-goal scorer emerged.

Yet, here we are six years later with average goalies putting up numbers we'd only expect from Hasek, Brodeur, and Roy.

Here are some examples so far this season:

Eight goalies (with at least four games started) are allowing fewer than two goals per game.

Twenty-six are allowing fewer than 2.50 goals against per game.

Twelve goalies have a save percentage over .930.

Nikolai Khabibulin's save percentage is 52 points above his career mark. Kari Lehtonen is 33 points above his career average, Brian Elliott 39 points, and Jonathan Quick 34 points.

Small sample sizes, sure. Will they regress? Probably. But the silly numbers these average netminders are posting early in the season are indicative of a trend over the past seven years of declining goal scoring.

Through 156 games, goals per game leaguewide is down 0.10 from last year and save percentages are up .002. Again, it's early. Since 2005-06, however, goals are down 0.39 goals per game and save percentages are up 0.14 leaguewide.

What hasn't changed much is the power play. The chance your team scores on the PP hasn't gone up or down much since the end of the Lockout. At its highest, teams were scoring 18.95% of the time—that was in 2008-09—and at its lowest, that number was 17.58% in 2007-07. Currently, teams are netting goals 17.68% of the time. The post-Lockout power play has been far improved from the 15.08% leaguewide success rate in 1997-98 and 16.46% in 2003-04.

At even strength, goals per game has fluctuated mildly from before and after the Lockout. Until this year, that is. Here's a look at how many even strength goals (including empty netters) an average team had per game going back to 2001-02:

2001-02: 1.97
2002-03: 1.92
2003-04: 1.87
LOCKOUT
2005-06: 2.05
2006-07: 2.10
2007-08: 2.02
2008-09: 2.12
2009-10: 2.16
2010-11: 2.15
2011-12: 1.99

Even strength scoring is down 0.16 from last year and is at its lowest point since before the Lockout. It can't be said enough times that the season is only one-eighth in and these numbers should even out. But there are some eyebrow-raising stats from pre- and post-Lockout scoring numbers including the amount of power play opportunities over the past three seasons is lower than in the three seasons leading up to the Lockout. (numbers are average team, not per game)

2001-02: 4.13
2002-03: 4.42
2003-04: 4.24

2009-10: 3.71
2010-11: 3.54
2011-12: 3.95

Clearly, there is a relationship between power play opportunities and goals per game. Power plays give teams the best chance during the game to score.

Now, here's the eye-popper: the year after the Lockout, in 2005-06, teams received 5.85 power play opportunities per game and scored 1.03 times. Here's the difference between 2005-06 and the last three seasons in power play opportunities:

2009-10: 2.14
2010-11: 2.51
2011-12: 1.90

So teams are receiving between 1.90 and 2.51 fewer chances at the optimal scoring situation than they did the year after the Lockout. Here is the goals per game difference (again, per team and counting empty netters):

2009-10: 0.24
2010-11: 0.29
2011-12: 0.39

What does this all mean? That there's been an obvious change in how many penalties were called between 2005-06 and the last three seasons. In fact, until this year, teams' power play opportunities went down every single year after the Lockout and save percentages have either stayed the same or gone up every year.

There are certainly other factors at play to explain the decrease in scoring so far this season. First, many teams have changed their strategies, asking players to block more shots and clog scoring lanes. Also, goaltending has become a science. Rather than each netminder having his own style, it has become about angles and minimizing the chance the puck will go in the net.

That being said, it's impossible not to draw a line between the lack of penalties called and reduction in goals. Every goalie has a reduced save percentage while short-handed and as opportunities have gone down, save percentages have gone up.

The lack of power play opportunities may cause teams to view certain types of players differently. Players who draw penalties have always been important, but it's harder to get the penalty called than several years ago. Conversely, you could also look at those players as more valuable because of the need to score power play goals—which are currently making up 26 percent of the league's goals.

We also need to look at goaltenders' numbers differently. For example, Ryan Miller's save percentage was .914 in 2005-06, which was 0.13 above league average. If he had the same save percentage now, he'd be below average. While .915 used to be good, now it's average. Adjust accordingly.

(It should be noted that shots per game this season and in 2005-06 are nearly exactly the same and the numbers between shots for and against have had little fluctuation during any of the post-Lockout seasons.)

Matthew Coller is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Matthew by clicking here or click here to see Matthew's other articles.

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<< Previous Article
Angles and Caroms (11/02)
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Premium Article The Blue Line (10/16)
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The Blue Line (01/30)
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In The Crease (11/04)

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