Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Six early trends that won't continue because that would be fun

We’ve now got almost a full week of the NHL regular season in the books. So what conclusions can we draw for the first few games?

The most likely answer: None. We can’t conclude anything. It’s only been a few games, and apart from a few injuries, chances are nothing that’s happened so far will really end up mattering. After all, we’re 36 games into a 1,230-game season. There’s more than enough time left for all of the early oddities and outliers to even out, and it won’t be long before we’ll probably have settled into a season that feels just like any other.

So yes, we can all agree that overreacting to the early results is foolish. But that’s too bad, because the first week has given us a handful of trends that it would be really cool to see continue over the rest of the season. We know it’s unlikely. But it’s hard not to hold out at least a little bit of hope that some of these temporary storylines will find a way to stick around.

So today, let’s look at a half-dozen early trends from the first week of the season that hockey fans should be hoping will continue, even though we know they probably won’t. At least we’ll be able to say we enjoyed them while they lasted.

Scoring is up

The NHL has spent the better part of two decades wringing its hands over an ongoing decline in scoring, without ever actually doing all that much about it. That continued this year when the league announced that they'd introduce smaller goaltending equipment, only to fail to have it ready in time for the season.

Maybe we didn't need it after all. Through the first few games, average scoring is up by roughly half-a-goal per team. We've seen scores like 7-4, 6-5, 6-4 and then 7-4 again, and so far there hasn't been a single shutout on the season (kind of).

Best of all, the increase hasn't simply been caused by more power plays, like the 2005-06 spike that turned out not to last. And it's all adding up an unusually high number of big comebacks. So what's going on? It's tempting to shrug it all off as just a quirk of small sample size, but that doesn't seem to tell the whole story.

One theory points to the World Cup, which gave the league's elite players a head start on playing meaningful games and let them hit the ground running. That makes sense, although it implies that the rest of the league should catch up relatively quickly. Or maybe we're just seeing the next wave of young talent land on the league with a thud, bringing more speed and creativity than today's defensive systems can handle.

That last one would be nice, but it seems overly optimistic.

NHL coaches have shown a frustrating ability to adapt their defence-at-all-costs approach to just about everything – if they could figure out a way to suck the life out of 3-on-3 overtime, it won't take them long to work their way around whatever's happening right now. But in the meantime, bring on the goals, and let's consider it a preview of what the league might look like if it ever got around to the sort of changes that really could make the increase permanent.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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