Scoring Is Up in NHL and There Are Many Reasons for the Increase
Mario Lemieux and Pat LaFontaine aren’t the only point producers in the NHL this season. With 23 days left and with teams having as many as 13 games to play, the NHL could have up to 24 scorers with 100 points or more.
The league’s previous high was 16 in 1985. Already, 11 men have reached the plateau.
So what gives? Are the eyes suddenly sharper? The skills more adroit? The defenses less defensive?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Certainly, Lemieux seems sharper, LaFontaine skillful and some defenses, such as Washington’s, as much interested in the offensive end. But when looking for the reasons for the Buffalo Sabres’ Alex Mogilny making a 30-point jump, the Vancouver Canucks’ Pavel Bure heading to a 40-point increase and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Ron Francis needing 13 points for the second 100-point season of his 12-year career, there must be more to it.
And, of course, there is.
Four more games on every team’s schedule now that the league plays 84.
Two expansion teams, the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning, and a 1-year-old still adjusting, the San Jose Sharks, who have given up 342, 284 and 367 goals, respectively.
It isn’t unlike baseball’s 1961 expansion season in the American League. That year, the AL added two teams, helping the New York Yankees to 240 home runs. Roger Maris got 61 of them, Mickey Mantle 54.
Backup goalies getting more work in the longer schedule, thus providing opposing forwards a larger window of opportunity. Once upon a time, when the NHL season was 14 games shorter, there were iron-man goalies who started every one.
A rule change that prohibits holding opposing players’ sticks, also favoring scorers.
The influx of skillful Eastern European talent. In Washington, no one has to look further than the Capitals’ line of Peter Bondra, Dimitri Khristich and setup man Michal Pivonka, though none of them is on his way to 100 points in the Capitals’ balanced attack.
AFTER WASHINGTON traded backup goalie Jim Hrivnak for Winnipeg Jets backup Rick Tabaracci, defenseman Sylvain Cote had this reaction:
“It’s sad for us to see someone leave who has been here a couple years,” Cote said. “But the strangest thing about trades is that no matter who it is--a star, a middle player, or someone else--from the day he leaves, no one talks about him again.”
LEMIEUX HAS 52 goals and 129 points going into Thursday night, five points behind NHL scoring leader Lafontaine of Buffalo, after a seven-game scoring streak in which he has 12 goals and 11 assists.
THIS IS WHAT Quebec Nordiques Coach Pierre Page had to say after Washington’s 5-1 victory Tuesday, in which Kevin Hatcher became the seventh NHL defenseman to record a 30-goal season:
“On this team (Washington), the defensemen play like forwards and the forwards play like defensemen. You don’t see too many defenses with that many points in the NHL.”
In fact, there never has been a defense in the NHL with this many points.
WINNIPEG ROOKIE Teemu Selanne tied and then broke the rookie points record held by Quebec’s Peter Stastny since 1980-81, with his 66th and 67th goals Tuesday, giving him 111 points for the season. Selanne, Winnipeg’s first pick in the 1988 draft, already had broken Mike Bossy’s 15-year-old rookie goal record on March 2, with his 54th goal.
“Both mean very much to me.”