Scoring is down, and obstruction seems to be up again in NHL
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Welcome to the new NHL, which is beginning to resemble the old NHL.
Scoring is down, and obstruction again is becoming a common element of play. Referees, many Penguins said, are allowing the clutching and grabbing that became ingrained in the game a decade ago to resurface.
The Penguins are particularly unsettled by this because special teams have marked a significant part of their success this season. Lately, special teams play has been rare.
"I don't necessarily think the play has gotten cleaner," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "(But) there are few power-play opportunities out there for every team."
The Penguins averaged more than four power-play opportunities per game through the end of December. Since Jan. 1, they are averaging 2.76 power-play chances.
"It's a playoff mentality right now," Bylsma said. "You might only get one or two in a game."
The NHL dismissed the notion that games are being called differently.
"Officials have not been instructed to loosen or change the standard on obstruction fouls," deputy commissioner Bill Daly said, "and we don't believe they have."
Said Terry Gregson, senior vice president of officiating: "There has been no change in standard in any area of enforcement."
The Elias Sports Bureau, which documents detailed statistics for various sports, told the Tribune-Review that it does not track how many obstruction penalties are called from one season to the next.
Still, Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said players believe a change has taken place.
"After the (2004-05) lockout, if a guy chipped a puck by you, you couldn't touch him," he said. "If you did, it was a penalty every single time. You just had to turn and go get it."
Instead of skating toward the puck when it is chipped in deep, defensemen have been subtly rubbing forwards into the glass and seemingly almost always getting away with it. This infuriated fans and star players for years before the NHL cracked down after the work stoppage.
"(The NHL) didn't tell us they were going to go easy on us (defensemen)," Orpik said. "But it's pretty obvious that it has changed."
Many Penguins, including Orpik, said they believe the concussion epidemic might be altering how games are refereed.
The NHL finds itself in a dilemma. Keeping the game fast and open, without interference, promotes offense and has received fan approval.
However, many believe that slowing the pace of play would minimize high-impact collisions, which could help reduce concussions.
"Before the rules changed (to discourage obstruction)," former Penguins coach Scotty Bowman told the Tribune-Review recently, "you didn't see people getting concussions like this."
Former NHL star Eric Lindros, who had his career derailed because of concussions, suggested in an interview with the Trib last year that the game would be safer if obstruction were permitted.
Orpik cited concussion prevention as the likely reason for fewer penalties.
"Maybe that's what it is," he said, "trying to slow the game down."
Whatever the reason, penalties aren't being called at the same rate as earlier this season. And it appears to be affecting scoring. Teams are averaging 5.47 goals per game, down from 5.83 in 2008-09. Scoring has trended down every season since then.
Center Evgeni Malkin, the league's leading scorer, will finish with 99 points should he maintain his current pace. The last time an Art Ross Trophy winner finished with fewer than 100 points was when Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis produced 94 points in the 2003-04 season.
"There just haven't been as many power plays," Bylsma said. "Going into games, you know that."
Penalties on decline
> > Total power plays in Penguins' games this season:
October: 94 in 13 games (7.23 per game, 4.23 for the Penguins)
November: 98 in 12 games (8.16 per game, 4.25 for Penguins)
December: 102 in 13 games (7.84 per game, 3.92 for Penguins)
Since January 1: 79 in 16 games (4.93 per game, 2.76 for Penguins)
> > NHL goals per game
2008-09: 5.83 goals per game
2009-10: 5.68 goals per game
2010-11: 5.59 goals per game
2011-12: 5.47 goals per game
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Injured Penguins optimistic about returning next season
- Coach Johnston trying to figure out why Penguins ‘fell off a cliff’
- Crosby, Malkin want to remain in Pittsburgh
- Penguins notebook: Crosby to play in worlds for 1st time since 2006
- Rossi: Rutherford falling apart, too
- Rossi: Penguins’ best bet is on Martin
- Penguins president: General manager, coach won’t be fired
- Young defensemen make case for future with Penguins
- From injuries to front office, Penguins’ season didn’t lack drama
- Penguins’ Malkin: ‘We’re not a championship team’
- Rossi: This type of hockey is a serious problem