Don’t expect this to change anytime soon.
All throughout the league, scoring is way down. When 3 goals in a single game is an offensive explosion, you know that the times have changed. But, more often than not, teams are held to 2 goals or less.
There are a few reasons for this. Goaltending is one of the main reasons why scoring is down. Look at Braden Holtby for instance. He has had an incredible postseason to this point. In his 11 games, he has yielded just 17 goals. He is not the only goalie posting incredible numbers. 3 other goalies still in the playoffs, Lundqvist, Bishop, and Andersen, each have GAA under 2.00.
But lower scoring goes way beyond just goaltending. It’s a total team effort. Defense as an overall whole is played at a level never seen in the league before. And if you think this is going to change anytime soon, unfortunately, you are mistaken. There are 2 major reasons why this isn’t going to fade away into the night.
Lower Scoring Is Successful
Think back for a moment to the 1995 New Jersey Devils. This is where most point out that this kind of game came from. They played what is now commonly known as the “neutral zone trap.” It was a new thing. The Detroit Red Wings didn’t know what to do with it. They got frustrated. As a result, they lose to the Devils in the Stanley Cup Final. Since, teams have tried to emulate this model.
As more players and teams have adapted a similar style to their games, forms of “the trap” are now a widespread thing. Teams are always looking for ways to keep scoring down. Because they have seen others successful in it, they say “why don’t we try this?” It started with one, the Devils. Now it’s everywhere. Need tangible evidence? Just look at the way the Kings have won their Cups. They had an elite goaltender, and played a style of defense that limited scoring chances.
If you do a good job limiting scoring chances, then there isn’t as much pressure to score as much yourself. When you consistently hold opponents to 2 or fewer goals, 3 goals will win you most games. Sometimes 1 or 2 goals will be good enough. Just look at this year’s Washington Capitals.
Junior Leagues Do This Too
Here is the other major reason that the scoring drought will continue. Junior players on certain teams play a similar style. This was on center stage Friday in Game 1 of the OHL Finals between the Erie Otters and Oshawa Generals.
The Generals roster has a lot of experience, and is big. They also play a shut down style. Oshawa jumped to a 2-0 lead early in the 2nd period. From that point forward, except for one incredible play by Connor McDavid, the Erie Otters had nothing. They had no time. They had no space. They couldn’t play an up and down style that they normally play. Oshawa clogged up the neutral zone, sometimes keeping 4 players there. It worked. Oshawa won Game 1 4-1. What makes you think they will switch from this playing style?
Even McDavid said after the game that Oshawa did a great job of limiting the Otters chances. He couldn’t get the time and space he normally gets. Even on his incredible play, he had to beat 4 Oshawa defenders. This is a winning style of hockey. It doesn’t matter who the other team has, even if it is Connor McDavid. The fact that this kind of thing happens in juniors, suggests that it is taught at a very young age. Coaches see the success of this in the NHL. They will emulate what makes others successful.
Will Rule Changes Help?
This has been the common saying. Rule changes will make the game more offensive. But will it really help? At best, it’s a temporary fix. Teams are good at adjusting. They will find ways to get around whatever new rules are applied. The fact that other leagues are playing this kind of style, means that it is not going anywhere, anytime soon. The only way there is a change, is when someone can consistently win against this system.
As much as we all want to see more scoring, don’t count on it. Only 3 players got to 40 goals this past season. The scoring champion, Jamie Benn, won with less than 90 points. Welcome to the new norm of the NHL.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.