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Goals aplenty over NHL’s first two months

  • FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo ,Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau (13) celebrates his goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals in Washington. Through the first two months of the season, goals are up more than 12 percent from the same time a year ago, including a 14 percent increase on the power play and a 38 percent spike short-handed. (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File) Nick Wass

  • FILE - In this Oct. 24, 2017, file photo, New York Islanders' John Tavares (91) celebrates after scoring a goal against Arizona Coyotes goalie Louis Domingue (35) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in New York. Through the first two months of the season, goals are up more than 12 percent from the same time a year ago, including a 14 percent increase on the power play and a 38 percent spike short-handed. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File) Frank Franklin II

  • FILE - In this Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, file photo, Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, center, of Russia, celebrates his goal with center Nicklas Backstrom (19), of Sweden, and defenseman Matt Niskanen, right, during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawks in Washington. Through the first two months of the season, goals are up more than 12 percent from the same time a year ago, including a 14 percent increase on the power play and a 38 percent spike short-handed. (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File) Nick Wass

  • New Jersey Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy (12) clears the puck as Vancouver Canucks left wing Loui Eriksson (21), of Sweden, tries to get his stick on it during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Julio Cortez

  • The iconic sloped roof of KeyArena, center, a sports and entertainment venue at the Seattle Center, is seen from above Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, in Seattle. The Seattle City Council on Monday approved a memorandum of understanding with Los Angeles-based Oak View Group in a 600 million privately financed project to renovate the facility, formerly the home of the NBA's SuperSonics. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Elaine Thompson



Associated Press
Thursday, December 07, 2017

The nets aren’t bigger, the goaltenders aren’t smaller and yet scoring is up significantly around the NHL.

Through the first two months of the season, goals are up more than 12 percent from the same time a year ago, including a whopping 14 percent increase on the power play and a 38 percent spike in short-handed goals.

“That’s what the league wanted,” San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc Edouard-Vlasic said. “The league has done everything in their power to make there more goals out there, and that’s exactly what’s going on.”

The uptick can be credited to a concerted crackdown on slashing by issuing more penalties and a league-wide move toward younger and more skilled players. The current pace of 6.01 goals per game would be the highest since 2005-06, when a series of rule changes were put in to open up the game and get more scoring to attract new fans.

“Teams try to go for it more,” said New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, whose goals-against average is 2.66, nearly 13 percent higher than it was at this point a year ago. “Most teams are trying to go for it, have this fast hockey, leave the zone quickly and it opens it up.”

Deputy NHL Commissioner Bill Daly said general managers are pleased with the current pace, which has lasted beyond the typical high-scoring October as defenses settle in for the season. Stricter enforcement of slashing was designed to reduce hand and wrist injuries, though it has had a positive effect on offense with defenders unable to whack at puck carriers’ sticks in an effort to stop them.

“I do think that has created certainly more room for our players to be offensive,” Daly said. “I think over time, clearly since we increased the standard for hooking and holding and interference (in 2005-06), slashing has become a way to defend and an effective way to defend, and I think this year it’s a less effective way to defend.”

Players have noticed, even if some are frustrated at the varying degrees of what rises to the level of a slashing penalty. Every referee is watching closely.

“The last five years, you could do so much more with your stick and probably now lots of players are afraid to use their sticks,” Los Angeles Kings forward Jussi Jokinen said. “I think everybody wants to see more goals, so scoring being up, I think it’s good.”

Everyone except maybe the goaltenders may think so, but it’s not like they’ve been terrible. Four goalies who have played at least 20 games have a save percentage of .930 or higher.

“The goaltenders, they haven’t been any better than they are right now and some of them are still getting lit up pretty good,” said Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz, who has the league’s leading goal-scorer in Alex Ovechkin.

Certainly the emphasis on slashing has helped players such as Ovechkin, Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau and New York Islanders star John Tavares, who can do wonders with even a few extra inches of space. Columbus Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson, who scored 10 goals in his first 15 games, said slashing is on everyone’s mind and “guys are not getting (their sticks) up into the hands as much as they used to.”

Slashing and otherwise, there have been 173 more power plays than last season and teams are converting on 19.7 percent of them. Almost half the league is at or above 20 percent. The massive increase in short-handed goals has a lot to do with aggressive penalty kills stocked with offensive-minded players more likely to score.

“That’s one more thing that the power play has to worry about,” Capitals winger T.J. Oshie said. “Now they don’t just have to worry about scoring goals. They have to worry about their turnovers, what plays they make, how risky they want to get because there is that chance if it goes the other way and it’s a 2-on-1, it could end up in the back of your net.”

Los Angeles coach John Stevens said teams are in “attack mode” all the time now, and Trotz estimates that he spends three-quarters of time trying to figure out how to score more.

But risk is also inherent in the NHL getting younger and featuring so many rookie scorers such as Arizona’s Clayton Keller, Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat and Vancouver’s Brock Boeser. The average age of an NHL player is 27 and Daly said the number has dropped over the past several years. He said more scoring is a byproduct as junior hockey and college programs get better at making players NHL-ready sooner.

Team composition has also changed. There are fewer journeyman faceoff specialists and grinders, and more players kept for speed and skill.

“Just the mold of all teams is kind of changing: They’re going for smaller, skilled guys rather than guys who are two-way forwards and stuff like that,” said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who is all of 27. “These young kids have unbelievable skill, too. It’s kind of crazy how much skill. They have things they grew up getting taught how to do those things, which we didn’t have access to when we were kids.”

For all the offense so far, there are those who don’t expect it to keep happening. Goals were up through October last season and the NHL finished averaging 5.54 per game. DeBoer said teams often tighten their systems and structure after Christmas, making it more difficult to score.

“I think it’s still early to say,” Blackhawks winger Richard Panik said. “The game is going to get tighter. It always does before playoffs.”

Lovejoy pledges brain

New Jersey Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy says he will donate his brain to research after he dies so it can be studied for signs of traumatic injury.

The Concussion Legacy Foundation says Lovejoy, a former Deerfield Academy hockey player, is the first active NHL player to make such a pledge.

More than 2,500 retired athletes and military veterans have pledged their brains to the foundation. Doctors examine the brains for signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative condition that can cause depression, violent mood swings, forgetfulness and other cognitive problems.

Lovejoy says he’s played hockey for most of his life, including 10 seasons in the NHL. He says he wants to give back to the sport by making it safer. He says he’s had relatively little brain trauma in his career but has seen the effects concussions have had on teammates.

Seattle expansion bid

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says the league’s board of governors agreed to consider an expansion application from Seattle.

Bettman said the expansion fee has been set at $650 million for Seattle, which would become the league’s 32nd team, if approved. He made the announcement Thursday after the first day of the board of governors meeting.

“We’ve agreed as a league to take and consider an expansion application, and to let them run in the next few months, a season-ticket drive,” Bettman said. “This is a process that we go through.”

Bill Foley paid a $500 million expansion fee for the Vegas Golden Knights. They began play this season.

Seattle plans to have a new arena ready by 2020 with the intent of luring NHL and NBA teams as anchor tenants.

Bettman says Seattle is the only city being considered for expansion at the moment, which means an NHL team likely won’t be playing in Quebec City’s 18,259-seat Videotron Centre in the foreseeable future.

“Obviously, there a lot of differences between Seattle and Quebec City, not the least of which is our conference alignment,” Bettman said. “Our plan is just to look at Seattle at this point.”

Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan said she spoke with Tim Leiweke, part of the Oak View Group that got approval to renovate KeyArena, and that they “couldn’t be more thrilled.” She hopes to meet with potential owner David Bonderman soon.

“I think we’ll see the launch after the first of the year because it’s not the time right now to be launching that kind of campaign. But I think there is a lot of pent up appetite in Seattle for this,” Durkan said. “I think we’ll meet the benchmarks we need to meet and in the mean time we’ll be negotiating the side agreements, doing the environmental work and moving forward so we can open when the NHL wants to come.”