Analyzing NHL goal scoring trends through the quarter mark

Daren Millard, Doug MacLean and Elliotte Friedman take a look at the early season trends in the NHL at the quarter mark of the season.

Red lights are flashing and hats are flying — goal-scoring is up across the NHL.

Through 333 games — all the action up to the one-day hiatus for U.S. Thanksgiving on Thursday — scoring has increased by more than half a goal (5.93 per game) compared to the same point last season (5.27). Players really came out of the gate flying, netting 6.04 goals per-game in 166 contests from opening night to Oct. 28, then cooling a bit to 5.81 per game in 167 outings since then.

Last season, scoring picked up after the first quarter and landed at 5.45 goals per game.

Some of the bump has come courtesy of big nights from individual snipers. Twenty-three hat tricks have been registered so far, the third-most at this point in the season since the 1997-98 campaign. (There were 26 in 2010-11 and 24 in 2005-06.)

YEAR GPG Through 333 GP Penalties through 333 games Slashing penalties through 333 games
2016-17 5.27 2733 189
2017-18 5.93 2787 478

Thirty-four players are presently averaging at least one point-per-game, led by the 1.71 clip of Tampa Bay Lighting centre Steven Stamkos. Nine players — Jakub Voracek, Josh Bailey, Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, Johnny Gaudreau, Nikita Kucherov and Stamkos — are playing at a 100-point pace. At his current rate, Stamkos would hit 140 points, the most for an Art Ross winner since Mario Lemieux had 160 in 1995-96.

In the past five full seasons, only four players — McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane and Evgeni Malkin — have posted 100-point campaigns. The last NHL season that featured more than one 100-point scorer was 2009-10.

Five players — Kucherov, John Tavares, Mark Stone, Auston Matthews and Alex Ovechkin — are scoring at a 50-goal pace, with Kucherov tracking a 66-goal season. If the Russian can even manage 65, it will represent the highest total since his countryman, Ovechkin, recorded that number in 2007-08. The last campaign that featured two 50-goal scorers was 2011-12, when Stamkos had 60 and Malkin had 50.

The proliferation of slashing penalties might lead one to believe this offensive spike has been driven by an abundance of power plays, but that’s not necessarily the case. While slashing calls are way up – 478 compared to 189 just 12 months ago — there hasn’t been a dramatic rise in overall penalties, with 2,787 infractions whistled this year compared to 2,733 last season.

Teams have combined for an average of 1.36 power-play goals per game so far, a modest increase over the 1.14 they averaged in all of 2016-17.