What do you generally regard as a high-scoring NHL game? A 9-8 slug-fest? (Hint, those two teams are playing right now, if you’ve just clicked on this link from Twitter) A 5-4 barn-burner? Really, though, a “high-scoring” game could be a 4-2 finish in today’s league. There’s not been a lot of goals to go around lately.
By my count, scoring is down slightly from 2011 to 2012. By about 19 total goals.
Not all that much, mind you, but, consider last season, there were 6870 officially recorded goals in the NHL, including shootout wins. Over a course of 1230 games, that’s 5.59 goals per game. That number was down from 5.68 the previous season. This year on that pace, we should have 1528 goals, but we’ve only had 1507 going into Saturday’s games.
Anything with six or more goals can be legitimately qualified as “high-scoring”. Since this does include shootout tallies, and I really wish the NHL would have a separate “shootout wins” column on their standings chart for all years and not just those dating back to last season, 3-3 games are out of the question.
Scoring’s been dropping slightly, and we’re missing 19 goals from last year. Are the 19 missing goals from last season carried through to this one the ones that are hiding from Alexander Ovechkin? Are they goals that Nikolai Khabibulin usually would have allowed?
Carry on, anyway. I usually prefer close games to high-scoring ones, anyway. When I was a kid, I think I read a few stories which said “scoring is up! There are 5.4 (or something) goals per game in the NHL this season!” That would mean I’d note whenever the sixth goal was scored and it would make me feel generally at ease, knowing that, at least the games I was watching weren’t contributing to the downfall of goal scoring as we knew it.
And while I still continue to note in my head whenever the sixth goal has been scored in any game, it’s really margin of victory that’s important. Friday night, the WHL’s Vancouver Giants and Victoria Royals featured a game that had 14 combined goals. The final score was 11-3, and I figure that can’t have been very fun to watch unless you have a lot of Giants on your fantasy roster. The more goals scored in a game, the less likely it is for one-goal games or tie-scores to appear.
Whatever’s exciting. I think that miraculous saves that defy the laws of human kinetics on scoring chances are just as fun as any goal or fancy pass through the air. Scoring chances even make the crowd buzz in Toronto or Vancouver, whether they end on a save, a post-or-crossbar, or a Craig Smith-esque roof job into the third deck. Scoring is slightly down, but whatever. I think we’ve so far seen a lot of really close games, and, having Centre Ice for the first time, I think I’ve seen at least one good game every day.
On that note, one team that’s actually been kind of fun to watch lately has been the Winnipeg Jets, winners of two-straight after dropping five in a row. It’s not fun just for their 9-8 win over the Philadelphia Flyers earlier this season (remember, those two teams ARE playing right now) but I think you could look up and down that roster at the start of the season and, unless you were an Atlanta Thrashers fan, pick out maybe two or three guys that you’d actually consider being game breakers.
It’s not that Atlanta had bad players last season, it’s just that they were a pretty bad team for years and therefore un-interesting. If they ever sniffed playoffs, there might be a little bit of interest, but other than their hot, percentage-based start last season and their one playoff appearance that didn’t culminate in a single win, the Thrashers/Jets organization has been anonymous since its beginnings. They’ve had just three 100 goal scorers (Ilya Kovalchuk, Slava Kozlov, Marian Hossa) and just 8 plus players who have played at least 82 games with the franchise.
I’m not sure if the trend is reversing, but they’ve balanced out as little as team that maybe can sting in a few different ways. Big Dustin Byfuglien has been an offensive threat from the blue line every night and frequently leads the team in shots and shot attempts on a game-to-game basis. Evander Kane and Alexander Burmistrov have each broken out, Kane on offense (well on-pace to break 20 for the first time in his career and has a realistic shot at 30) and Burmistrov on defense (he’s a puck-controlling machine).
The team was pretty much made up of Atlanta cast-offs and general replacement-level players with ties to Winnipeg or the True North organization. Jason Jaffray was a former Manitoba Moose player, while Kyle Wellwood and Tanner Glass spent a couple of years each with the Vancouver Canucks, the NHL-affiliate of the Moose for several years. Wellwood appears to have had a complete ressurgence, with six goals already this season after bouncing around despite being an effective third line player in Vancouver and San Jose (critics may point to his shooting percentage of 26% though, which is not going to sustain itself). Eric Fehr, a Winnipeg native, was probably the team’s only major acquisition in the summer (who has now been activated and in the lineup against Philly) so the new management team headed by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff was counting a lot on the younger talent stockpiled by the organization when they were in Atlanta to break through.
For the most part, they have, Kane and Burmistrov especially, but the team has some hurdles to overcome still. Ondrej Pavelec is by no means a superstar goalie, but he plays a fun style and has stolen a couple of games for the Jets. In the team’s last two wins against division rivals Tampa Bay and Washington, Pavelec has stopped 20/20 shots with the team killing a penalty. His save percentage rests at just .907, but he’s picked up three straight quality starts and, when he’s playing well, the team are a lot more fun. Pavelec has yet to make a conventional save this season, deciding rather to approach every puck like he wants to appear on the highlight reel. It’s worked a little more than 9/10 times.
The team’s third line has also somehow contributed. Tanner Glass, whoever HE is, was never really a threat to score in Vancouver, except on this one play in Game Five of the Stanley Cup Finals, but as part of the “GST” line with Chris Thorburn and Tim Stapleton (they also see Jim Slater in there sometimes) he’s picked up nine points so far. Stapleton and Slater, whoever THEY are, have 13 points so far on the year. The latter two are actually a couple of guys who had pretty good underlying numbers, but really, who might have noticed them? They aren’t players who stuck out too positively or negatively any other way.
The Jets are 13th in the Eastern Conference with a 7-12 record, although they’re a better team than that. With the score tied, they’ve generated 53.4% of the total shots on goal, up from last season’s 50.1%. With a little more consistent goaltending, this is a team that should even out closer to .500 than not. I don’t expect them to make the playoffs, but I think it’s kinda cool to see a team come together this young and this deep. A lot of noise has been made about the NHL’s return to Winnipeg without so much looking at the team itself. That’s not expressly fair to a collection of pretty good hockey players or to hockey fans in Atlanta who got to cheer on Andrew Ladd, Nik Antropov, Bryan Little, Tobias Enstrom, Mark Stuart and Blake Wheeler. It may not be much consolation, but they’re finding success. And it’s looking up for the franchise, not because of a change of scenery, but management in Atlanta found time to scrap together a good re-build. Like for the Florida Panthers, this is long overdue, and the team has become kind of fun to watch.