A year after sporting five 50-goal scorers, the most in a decade, only one player is currently on pace to top the magical barrier.
Vincent Lecavalier of the Tampa Bay Lightning carried 48 goals into Tuesday night’s game against the New York Islanders and should have no problem cracking 50 for the first time in his career.
After that, the league needs a few players to get hot in the remaining three weeks of the season. Anaheim Ducks winger Teemu Selanne has the best shot sitting at 44 goals with nine games left. He’s on pace for 49.
Ottawa Senators winger Dany Heatley (42 goals before Tuesday night’s game), Atlanta Thrashers winger Marian Hossa (41 goals) and Washington Capitals winger Alexander Ovechkin (41 goals) have an outside shot but aren’t currently on pace for 50.
Scoring is down across the board. The NHL was averaging 5.8 goals per game this season through Monday night’s games, down from 6.1 through the same number of games last year, but still up from the 5.1 goals per game the league average through the same number of games in 2003-04 before the lockout.
“It’s important that we keep an eye on all this,” Buffalo Sabres star Daniel Briere told The Canadian Press on Tuesday. “The changes that were made last year were great but it doesn’t mean everything is fixed. We have to be careful. I’m concerned that some people think we’re done now, that everything is fine.
“We have to keep going, keep finding ways to make the game of hockey even more appealing to fans.”
The league came back from the lockout armed with a bevy of changes meant to open up the game, and it worked.
Jonathan Cheechoo led the NHL last season with 56 goals, followed by Jaromir Jagr (54), Ilya Kovalchuk (52), Ovechkin (52) and Heatley (50) – giving the league its most 50-goal scorers since eight players turned the trick in 1995-96. No one reached 50 goals in 2003-04 before the lockout, while only Milan Hejduk did it in 2002-03 and Jarome Iginla in 2001-02.
But there’s been a dip this season. Why is up for argument. Some believe coaches got smarter and more teams have figured out how to trap this season despite the crackdown on obstruction.
Others believe there’s more parity than ever, which lends itself to tighter-checking games.
“When you look out here at the West this year, the games are so tight,” said San Jose Sharks star centre Joe Thornton. “Really from January on we’ve been playing playoff hockey and it’s really tight.
“The coaches are keeping it tighter. There’s no real blowouts anymore, everyone is just playing better defensively and better understands the new style of the game.”
Another theory is that players have adjusted to the new rules. They’re certainly taking less penalties. Through Monday night the NHL was averaging 9.8 power plays per game, down from 11.8 through the same number of games last season.
“I think that’s the most significant change for me,” Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock said Tuesday. “You see players who start hooking and then let go. I also think the referees, for the most part, have done a heck of a job allowing us to play.
“But the biggest adjustment is that the players know what they can and not get away with.”
The question is just how much of a concern should the dip in scoring be? The playoff races have been entertaining to follow.
“It depends on how you sell the game,” said Hitchcock. “Just as a hockey fan, I can hardly wait to watch the games because they’re so competitive and there’s so much at stake right now.”
Added Thornton: “I love watching the games.”
Note: While the 50-goal scorers will be down, strangely enough the number of 100-point players looks to be about the same as last season. Sidney Crosby is already at 108 points but Lecavalier, Thornton, Hossa, Martin St. Louis, Heatley and Marc Savard are all on pace to eclipse 100, which will match last season’s output of seven players with 100 or more.