Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Extinguishing the Firepower

One of the so-called hot button topics we're supposed to care about this season is the lack of scoring going on in the NHL. The average goals per game is down, we're told. Goals equal exciting games, they say. It needs to be fixed - so sayeth the league.

All due respect to the NHL, who always seem to make the right decisions based on what they think the fans want...but that's crap.

Yes, the odd 7-0 game is fun. The occasional 6-5 game can be thrilling.

It can also be boring and miserable and predictable, whereas a good old-fashioned 0-0 or 1-1 game can be an edge of your seat, nailbiting thriller. (Even moreso back in the days before the gimmicky shootout came along...but that's an argument for another day.)

It's also not as though goal scoring has disappeared completely, evidenced by the scores we've seen just in the last week. The Sabres have had three games in the last two weeks where the winning team has scored at least 7 goals. The Caps beat up on the Thrashers just a few days ago to the tune of 6-3. Colorado rolled over the Blues by plastering them for 9 goals - and by "rolled over" I mean still allowed 5 goals against. The Flyers demolished the Pens just last night, putting up eight goals in a game that included back to back hat tricks.

So it's not that goal scoring is down, per se. The difference is actually found not in the league but in teams - in other words, teams that scored a lot of goals last year are, well, not so much. Tonight's game is the perfect model for this.

At this time last year the New York Rangers had 99 goals, tied for sixth in the league. This year they have a total of 64 goals - that's a 35 goal differential over the course of a year. But those big buck contracts handed out to Gomez and Drury were totally worth it, right?

Then there's the Caps. A year ago they had begun their descent but were still 10th in the conference and had racked up 95 goals. That's 21 more than their total this year. A lot of that is coaching, chemistry and injuries - but it's enough to send the Caps to the basement.

And it's not just the Caps and Rangers, either. Last year the Islanders had 88 goals. This year they've scored 62. Buffalo went from 124 to 86; Nashville went from 99 to 70. Anaheim was the most dramatic dip, going from 121 goals a year ago to just 77.

On the other end of the spectrum, Carolina is just one goal off their pace from last season. Toronto, Montreal, and a few other teams are also hovering around the same mark. Ottawa continues to rack up points. Detroit has actually scored more goals than this time last year, and by a large margin.

So maybe it's not that goal scoring is down leaguewide but rather that some previously offensively powerful teams are simply not anymore. Maybe the issue is that with true parity comes the decline in offensively-loaded teams. Maybe it's because some teams are underachieving (i.e., the Caps). Maybe goal scoring isn't a trend that can be measured year to year but rather over a decade or a generation.

In the end does it really matter? Would you really stop going to games just because the final score was 2-1 rather than 3-2? Statistically speaking, goals are down. But on any given night any team can explode for 7+ goals and on any given night a goalie can shut down everything. It has nothing to do with how strictly the refs interpret the rules or how big the net is - all any fan wants to do is be entertained and, hopefully, see their team come out on top.

The rest is just numbers.


Finny said...

girl, I don't know how you do it... I don't know how you keep track of all the numbers. I wish I had that kind of talent. :)

DMG said...

The total goals per game doesn't really matter to most fans I think. What matters is whether teams have chances to get goals. The NHL wants to avoid how the game had changed pre-lockout where if a team went up by 2 in the second you might as well turn the TV off.

Chris & Sarah said...

Some high scoring games can indeed be boring, especially when they are lopsided. Although last night's battle of Pennsylvania was entertaining if only for the brutality of it, and Sid and the Mullets getting screwed more times than a buck bunny in heat.

Dan, Jr. said...

I always found the low scoring games exciting. Fewer goals in a game makes them more special, therefore more exciting. Yeah, those lopsided high scoring games are just plain miserable if you're on the losing end, therefore depressing.