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With few exceptions, NHL scoring is sagging

| Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016, 8:30 p.m.
Metropolitan Division and Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin (71) scores against Atlantic Division and Lightning goalie Ben Bishop at the All-Star Game on Sunday.
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The Penguins' Kris Letang (left) celebrates with teammate Evgeni Malkin after scoring a goal in the Eastern Conference semifinal game between the Atlantic Division and the Metropolitan Division as part of the NHL All-Star Game on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In his annual All-Star news conference Saturday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he's pleased with the excitement level of the sport.

He must be watching a lot of the Washington Capitals, Dallas Stars, and Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane.

Offenses, in general, are sputtering. This season's 5.27 goals per game is the lowest since the dark days before the 2004-05 lockout.

Dallas winger Jamie Benn won the Art Ross Trophy last season with 87 points, the lowest total for a scoring champ since Stan Mikita won it with 87 in 1967-68.

The Caps, Stars and Kane, though, seem to be immune to the goal-suppression trend.

Washington and Dallas are the only teams in the league averaging better than three goals. Kane, with 73 points, is the only player in the league on pace to top 100 points.

Statistically speaking, the Stars produce offense in a modern way. They're fifth in the league in Corsi For Percentage, the prime metric that measures possession. As a result, they're first in shots and third in high-danger scoring chances per game.

The Caps are a bit of a throwback. They're only the 14th-best possession team in the league, but like the Penguins teams of the early '90s, they make their trips to the offensive zone count.

They're first in the league on the power play and in shooting percentage.

The one common denominator between the teams might be depth.

Seven Capitals players have hit double-digit goals at the All-Star break, tops in the league. Six Stars have scored at least 10 times, the most in the Western Conference.

Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said the emergence of 23-year-old Evgeny Kuznetsov as an All-Star-caliber player, joining Nicklas Backstrom on the team's roster of top-six centers, has made a difference in Washington.

“We have two No. 1 centers with great support on the wings,” Holtby said. “(Alexander Ovechkin), obviously, on the one (wing) is a pretty good asset to have, but the center position makes the whole team click. They're first back in the ‘D' zone. They're on the forecheck. They have to skate a ton. Having two guys that are absolutely world class creates a ton of offense.”

In Dallas, Benn and linemate Tyler Seguin have been the driving forces on offense, but coach Lindy Ruff was quick to praise some of the team's other players up front.

“Cody Eakin has nine or 10. (Jason) Spezza, with even reduced ice, is on pace for 30-plus,” Ruff said. “I think the reason we've been able to hang on to three-plus goals is there's been depth down the roster.”

Kane, too, spread the credit around for his productive season, talking up linemates Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin.

“I've had a blast playing with them guys,” Kane said. “It's been a consistent line from day one.”

He's being modest, though. His linemates didn't teach him how to dart into open spaces in the offensive zone or beat opposing goaltenders with the league's most dangerous shot.

“With his vision and the way he can handle the puck, it's pretty impressive how quick he can do it with his head up,” said Columbus winger Brandon Saad, Kane's former teammate. “The numbers he's put up this year, it's special.”

Perhaps that's the real secret to what the Caps, Stars and Kane have been able to do that other teams can't. It's not about tactics or team construction, possession or power plays.

It's about good players playing well.

“There's no secrets,” Benn said. “You've just got offensive players that click with each other out there, scoring all these goals as a team.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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