Patrik Laine’s season has been filled with ups and downs. By the end of November, Laine already had 21 goals and a trio of hat-tricks, but from Jan. 17 through Feb. 20, he failed to score over a 15-game span. But when Laine scored his 30th goal of the season last night against the Dallas Stars – his first goal in 13 games and his first in March – it marked his third 30-goal season in the NHL, and he hasn’t turned 21 yet.
Not only did Laine reach the 30-goal plateau for the third consecutive season, he also became the 38th NHLer to hit 30 goals this year in what has been an incredible year for offense across the board. Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has led the way for most of the season, sitting just two goals shy of his eighth 50-plus goal season. Toronto Maple Leafs star John Tavares’ four-goal extravaganza against the Florida Panthers on Monday moved him into second with 45, surpassing Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl by two goals. An additional 17 players are fewer than five goals from reaching 30, which would see a whopping 60 players hit the mark. St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko and Detroit’s Andreas Athanasiou need just a single goal to join the club, while the Rangers’ Mika Zibanejad, Detroit’s Dylan Larkin and San Jose’s Evander Kane and Timo Meier are two away.
So, how does this season compare to recent campaigns?
Last year, 32 players recorded 30-plus goals, while 2014-15 had just 15. If just the six players listed above, those within two goals of the plateau, manage to hit 30 this season, it would raise the total number of 30-goal scorers to 44, tying 2000-01 for the best total since 55 players managed the feat in 1993-94. Still, it’s a far cry from 1992-93, an absolutely bonkers season when it came to scoring. An incredible 67 players had at least 30 goals that campaign, with Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny leading the way with 76 apiece. A whopping 21 players recorded at least 100 points that season. Of course, goalies got bigger and started to change their playing style, reffing has evolved and defensive strategies started to improve, meaning, over time, scoring took a drastic dip post-Gretzky era.
The fact that scoring is up compared to previous campaigns is a good sign for fans, players and the league. Per Hockey-Reference, the NHL’s goal-per-game-per-team average is 3.02, the highest since 2005-06’s 3.08 and the second-best since the league averaged 3.14 in 1995-96. Special-team conversions have been a big factor in the increase in goals, as the league average power-play goal percentage, 19.71, is the second-highest since 1989-90 and 18th-best in NHL history. It’s quite a bit different from the 3.63 goals-per-game-per-team average from ’92-93 or even the high-3.90s of the 1980s, but it’s a nice start for those who love offense.
The league-average .910 save percentage is the lowest of the current decade but still 15th-best all time. For comparison: the SP average was .901 in 2005-06 and .885 in 1992-93. Goals are up, but so are shots, so goalies are stopping more pucks than they did a decade or two ago, and we’ve reached a nice balance between good goaltending and gifted goal-scorers.
You can’t talk about scoring without factoring in the talent level of the game’s best, either. These days, speed and creativity rule the NHL, with smaller players making a larger impact than ever before. The clutch-and-grab era is a thing of the distant past: to hang with the best, you need to keep up with the best, literally. The top players have more freedom to move around and get creative, resulting in more goals. It’s a win-win, unless you’re Tanner Glass or Ryan White. The tough guys are starting to see their roles decrease. Fighting continues to fall each season, with the league on pace for 238 fights during the regular season, the lowest total in more than 20 years, per Hockey Fights.
Fans don’t watch hockey for masterful defensive strategies and 1-0 scorelines. The sport’s biggest appeal is speed and excitement, and there’s no better demonstration of that than the number of 30-goal scorers we’re seeing this year. Scoring is on the rise, the goaltending is still solid and the top players are being rewarded for their spectacular skill. If this continues for the next few years, it will be a perfect storm for the NHL.