Where have all the goals gone?

Ottawa Senators star Jason Spezza says NHL scoring is down because the number of power play opportunities have steadily declined.

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson says it’s the result of teams using their depth players more often and due to improved checking.

Whatever the reason, goals are at their lowest level since before the 2004-05 lockout. And there’s nothing on the table at the current general manager’s meetings in Florida which will likely alter that.

Before Monday’s games, teams have combined to score 5.30 goals per game this season, down from 5.46 last season, 5.53 in 2009-10 and 5.70 in 2008-09.

When the NHL re-launched itself with a more offensive mindset following the lockout – the red line was removed and more obstruction penalties were called – goals jumped to 6.05 per night, almost a full goal higher than the pre-lockout figure of 5.14.

Now, it appears as if NHL scoring has gone back to the future again.

It’s entirely possible that the regular season could end without a 100-point scorer for the first time since Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis won the scoring title with a mere 94 points in 2003-04. Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin currently leads the scoring race with 84 points.

“It’s harder to score, it’s harder to be an offensive guy these days and if you’re scoring a point per game, you’re almost top five in the league right now,” said Spezza, who ranks third in NHL scoring with 73 points. “It seems like there are (fewer) penalties now and that’s the biggest thing. You’re getting one or two power plays per night, where before you were getting four or five a night.”

When play resumed following the lockout, teams were receiving a combined 11 power plays per game. At the start of the current season, the number was around eight power plays per contest, which has since slid to 6.8 manpower advantages.

Spezza says it’s only natural that scoring numbers are going down as a result.

“You used to think that 100 points was a good year, but now it’s 80 points,” said Spezza, who believes the game is in good shape. “If you’re looking for more scoring, you’ve got to call more power plays and figure out ways to open it up a little bit more.”

While GM’s are discussing the possibility of eliminating the two-line pass through the neutral zone – there are concerns that the increased speed in the middle of the ice has led to more concussions – Spezza isn’t a fan of that proposal.

“Sometimes people forget how slow the game was with the red line in,” he said. “It became easier for teams to trap.”

Alfredsson agrees.

“I don’t think the red line has sped up the game to the point where you need to slow it down again because of concussions,” he said. “You learn pretty quickly if you see a few hits. Back before there was red line and you played New Jersey and you cut across (the middle of the ice) and you knew Scott Stevens was on the ice, you knew the dangers of doing that.”

The Senators captain says that after some initial adjustment to life with a two-line pass following the lockout, players and coaches adapted to the change to cut down on scoring chances.

“At the beginning, there was a lot of offence with people making mistakes, but now everybody has three guys back all the time,” he said. “If you get a 2 on 1, maybe it’s once every eight or nine games, if that. There aren’t a lot of really open scoring chances. A lot of it is cycling or rebounds or tight plays around the net.”

Rather than putting the red line back in, Alfredsson suggests GM’s should think seriously about once again allowing goaltenders to play the puck anywhere behind the goal line, rather than being restricted to a few feet on either side of the net.

It’s a proposal defenceman Chris Phillips also says is worth talking about.

“Well, as long as we have that guy (Ben Bishop) in net, I would love to see (the restrictions gone),” Phillips said. “I had the good fortune of playing with Tom Barrasso here for a bit and I barely had to get over the blue line and the puck was coming back up and that saved injuries.

But I also played with guys like Patty Lalime and you would like to strap them to the posts.”

Phillips also hopes that league GM’s seriously consider a new interpretation to the icing rule, in the hopes of cutting down on injuries to defencemen.

Currently, icing isn’t called until the puck crosses the goal line and is touched by the defenceman, which often leads to collisions into the boards as both the defenceman and an on-rushing forward charge hard towards the puck. Under a new proposal, however, icing could be called if a defenceman is a step ahead of the forward when the puck crosses a new line, somewhere in the vicinity of the faceoff circle.

“You still have a race,” Phillips said. “If the defensive player gets there first, the whistle would go, but if the offensive player is there first, it’s waved off. Instead of giving you three feet to make those decisions and react offensive and defensively, you have 20 feet.”

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