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NHL scoring is up, and increased slashing calls are partly responsible

Chris Hine, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Hockey

Maybe the NHL finally will leave Devan Dubnyk and the rest of the league's goaltenders alone.

For the past few years, the NHL has been on a slippery mission to increase scoring. It was operating under the theory that more goals equals more fan enjoyment, which equals higher attendance, better television ratings and more money.

Recently, the league zeroed in on the goaltenders and their equipment as the culprits for less scoring. Last season, the NHL reduced the size of the pants goaltenders could wear, hoping that would be part of the solution.

"Maybe they'll stop trying to make us wear shin pads if scoring is up," Dubnyk cracked last week.

He may not have to worry, because after years of trying to increase scoring, the league is succeeding -- while leaving goaltenders alone.

From 2011-16, the NHL could not help but be concerned. Teams averaged between just 2.65 and 2.67 goals per game, according to STATS, and scoring was only slightly above the offensive slog of the late 1990s and early 2000s and well below the halcyon days of the 1980s, when teams tallied between 3.51 and 4.01 goals per game.

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Last season there was an uptick to 2.73 goals per game, but this season the league has seen a more dramatic increase to 2.88 goals per game. The Wild are at the league average, which is approaching three goals per game for the first time since the 2005-06 season.

There are a few reasons behind this revival of scoring. First, NHL power plays are converting at a rate they haven't been in a long time. The current 19.7 percent success rate of power plays would be the highest since the 1989-90 season if it holds up the rest of the season. Teams also are putting more shots on goal than they have at any time in the past 36 years. The 31.9 shots on goal per game that teams average now (the Wild averages 30.1) would be the highest mark since STATS has recorded season-long shot data beginning with the 1982-83 season.

But perhaps the most significant factor is the increased emphasis on slashing penalties -- and its ensuing impact on 5-on-5 play. Power-play opportunities and power-play goals are set to rise compared with the past three seasons in part because the number of slashing calls has increased dramatically.

Through Thursday's games, 854 slashing penalties had been called in 786 games, according to the NHL. Through the same number of games a seasons ago, only 530 slashes were called.

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