NHL scoring cools off after torrid start

The 2016/17 NHL season got off to a high-scoring start over its first couple of weeks, but has settled down considerably since then. Although it may not seem like much, teams were scoring an average of 3.05 goals per-game to start the campaign, which would have ranked as the 39th-highest total out of 100 seasons if they had kept it up. It also would have been the first time since 2005/06 that the clubs would have averaged at least three goals per-game over an entire season. The highest total recorded was 4.79 goals per-outing back in 1919/20 with the lowest being 1.46 per-contest less than a decade later in 1928/29.

Of course, the style of the game has changed over the years and is sometimes cyclical as we’ve seen high-scoring, fire-wagon hockey in some eras and tight-checking systems in others. In addition, the size of goaltending equipment has been altered several times over the decades and the composite hockey stick was recently introduced. There were several other theories to explain the high-scoring start of the current season though. Some experts believed the number of rookies in the league was a factor since there were 68 first-year players listed to open the season, which represented 10.3 per cent of the league’s players.

These skilled newcomers are seen as being young and fast with a habit of playing an offensive style of hockey. However, most of them aren’t as experienced when it comes to playing in their own end. This leads to mental lapses and physical mistakes which often results in more goals. By mid-November, goals per game for each team had leveled out to 2.77, which would rank just 61st in NHL history. Another reason for the quick start could have been the World Cup of Hockey tournament which was played in September just before the season faced off.

Players were for world-class hockey at an earlier date than usual and many of them entered 2016/17 already in mid-season form. While skaters were setting off the goal light on a regular basis, some of the league’s top goalies struggled. Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings suffered a long-term injury in his season opener while Montreal’s Carey Price was sidelined for several games with illness and Frederick Anderson of Toronto missed the much of the preseason and the World Cup with a shoulder problem. Other netminders such as Brian Elliott of Calgary, Ben Bishop of Tampa, Tuukka Rask of Boston and Martin Jones of San Jose all struggled to find their top form.

Goaltenders’  save percentage over the first two weeks of the season stood at 90.3 per cent on average, which ranked 19th lowest out of the 33 years the NHL has been recording the statistic. By mid-November, that number had risen to 91.2, which would rank as sixth-best  in history. Goals per team could have also been up early on since power-play opportunities were 3.68 per-game per-team early in the campaign and that number has fallen to 3.34, which is the 43rd-lowest total out of the 53 years the stat has been kept.

Whatever the reasons were for the high-scoring opening to the 2016/17 season, things quickly cooled down. Rookie scoring suddenly tailed off with Winnipeg’s Patrick Laine being the only first-year player among the top-32 scorers as of November 12th. The league’s top goalies were back in fine form and everything else from power-play opportunities and goals to penalty-killing and goals-against averages were more or less back to average for the NHL, at least for the past decade. Therefore, even with the influx of so many creative, high-scoring rookies this year, fans shouldn’t really expect to see anything out of the ordinary.