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NHL goal-scoring dips dramatically as season wears on

| Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, 6:48 p.m.
Tribune-Review
Penguins left winger Tanner Glass says defense and officiating are factors why goal scoring is down in the NHL.
Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik checks the Devils' Stefan Matteau in the first period at Consol Energy Center on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

Fan interest has returned despite the NHL's 119-day lockout. Goals, however, have been hard to come by.

Since Feb. 1, goal production has dropped heavily in the NHL. Scoring was up through the season's first two weeks, but during the past 11 days, it has been historically low.

Why?

“Probably a little bit of everything,” Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland said.

The Penguins believe there are three reasons for the lack of scoring:

• The mini-training camp didn't allow coaches proper time to implement their systems. After a couple of weeks, though, teams found their defensive footing.

• Players are fatigued. The Penguins, for instance, just played 11 games in 19 days. Without the energy that a regular schedule can provide, teams are playing more conservatively and relying more on low-scoring fourth lines.

• Officiating has been different. Referees are more sensitive to possibly dangerous hits and boarding penalties, but the infractions that prevent scoring — interference, hooking and holding — aren't being called with the frequency of former seasons. The league decided that safety against concussion-inducing hits is more important than leaning toward obstruction-type penalties that promote more scoring.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma believes the lack of a training camp led to high-scoring games initially.

“You saw power plays have great success because penalty killers hadn't been practicing together,” Bylsma said. “Maybe they weren't on the same page. The last eight or nine days, you've seen more like regular-season games versus the first two weeks. It was haphazard in terms of fatigue, conditioning and mistakes overall.”

The numbers are clear.

During the first two weeks of the season, NHL games produced an average of 5.55 goals, which is slightly up from the past three seasons. However, starting Feb. 1, games are producing only 5.13 goals per game.

Goal-scoring typically drops during the course of the season as games become more important and power plays decline. The 5.13 total, should it continue, would represent the NHL's lowest-scoring season since 1956.

The league average is 5.36 goals per game so far for the 2013 season, but that number is dropping almost daily. Last season's goals-per-game average was 5.34.

“Teams have actually had some time to practice defense now and work on their systems,” Penguins left wing Tanner Glass said. “In the first couple of weeks, there were scoring chances taking place that you just wouldn't normally see.”

Officiating, Glass said, is also playing a significant role in the drastic drop in scoring.

“I especially see it on faceoffs,” Glass said. “There is a lot of interference going on. Not being called. So teams that are winning draws are being interfered with a lot and it is preventing a lot of scoring chances.”

The emergence of defensive systems is what most players point to for the tough sledding offensively.

“Everyone is settling in now,” Engelland said.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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