Yesterday, a radio producer asked me, “Why are teams scoring more this season?”
It’s a great question and one that I think most people are curious about. Goals are up over 6 per game for the first time since 2005-06. The most significant difference I see, comparing this season to the few before it – teams are generating way more quality offense. How much and how are they doing it? That’s what we’ll get into, here.
Teams are actually shooting a bit less this season, with the average game producing 62.4 shots compared to 63.6 last season, according to Hockey Reference. But, check this out – 12 teams are averaging at least 15 shots on net from the slot, per game, this season. Last season, only Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay averaged that many. The year before, only one team and the year before that, the 2015-16 season, nobody. The front door to the house is wide open and players are creating better chances that we’ve seen in recent years.
This is clearly evident on the powerplay, as well. This season, 23 teams are taking at least half their shot attempts from the slot. Last season, just 8 teams. The year before, 3 and the year before that, not a single team averaged half of their powerplay shots attempts from the slot.
As more information becomes available, teams are realizing just how valuable quality is and how over-valued quantity has been in terms of shot selection.
Overall, as the quality of shots being taken increases, the percentage of pucks goalie stop decreases.
Generating these quality looks is obviously not as simple as telling players, “Hey, get between the dots, below the hashmarks and fire away.” This is the most contested area of the ice. So, while an increased understanding of just how valuable it is to generate offense from this area may be part of the explanation for the uptick in goals, how do we explain how teams have been able to do it so much more?
This isn’t easy to prove without player tracking technology however, in measuring how often players are passing pucks into the slot, I can tell you that the increase in quality shots has more to do with players skating the puck to this area than passing it. My theory, there is more of an emphasis on speed and skill in the game today than there has been in recent memory. Also, there is less tolerance for obstruction from defending players. No more sticking guys on the hands as they skate around the offensive zone. Players are more skilled than ever and they have been given the freedom to maneuver around the offensive zone without defenders breaking their wrists. Couple this with, what I believe, is an understanding from most teams of how much more valuable a quality based approach is and we have the main reason scoring is up and save percentages are down. A higher volume and percentage of meaningful shots.
Because the increase in quality chances is driven mostly by skilled, offensive players, we’re seeing more players on pace for 100-point seasons. This season, 4 times as many players are on-pace to score 100 points that last year.
More pucks to the middle on the powerplay, where high-end offensive players play, and more quality shots generated, something that requires high-end offensive skill, equals more top-tier players racking up big point totals
So, will it last?
I expect it to. We are just past the halfway point of the season and, as I mentioned, 12 teams are averaging at leasts 15 slot shots per game. At this point last season, only the Penguins were averaging that many and by the end of the year, it was just Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.
Goals are what get fans out of their seats and for the foreseeable future, I’d expect lots of scoring which, goalies aside, I think we can all agree is great for the game.