The NHL’s goal-scoring problem in 2015-16 goes beyond the anecdotal cases of Sidney Crosby’s most sluggish career start or Jakub Voracek’s 0-for-50 shooting “accuracy” or the Anaheim Ducks.
Through the first 180 games of the season, an average of just 2.69 goals have been scored per contest, according to hockey-reference.com. We’re on pace for the fewest goals since the 2.57 per game scored in 2003-04, when clutching and grabbing reached its peak and a lockout forced a list of rule changes to favour the shooter.
Especially concerning is that one of this year’s new rules, 3-on-3 overtime, was implemented to increase in-game goals while another, the coach’s challenge (the mechanics of which could soon change), is subtracting them.
“It’s impossible to score,” Mike Babcock told reporters Wednesday.
According to the Toronto Maple Leafs' no-BS coach, the solution is simple.
"All you gotta do is a math equation. You go to 1980 when the puck went in the net [at a nearly four-goals-a-game pace]. You look at the average size of the goalies in the net and you look at the net," Babcock said.
Goaltenders, the equipment they wear and the techniques they've practised have all grown in the last 35 years. The net they protect has remained the same.
"The net's too small for the size of the goalies, period," Babcock said.
— SYCK Hockey ® (@SyckHockey) April 7, 2014
The average save percentage for an NHL goalie has been better than .910 for seven years running (currently .914), a steady climb from the .873 mark in 1983-84, when the statistic was first tracked.
Goaltenders' teched-out equipment is now restricted by height and width, but Grant Fuhr — who won the 1988 Vezina with a .881 save percentage — argues that the NHL should restrict its weight instead.
"Guys are wearing it bigger because it’s so much lighter. If it was heavier, they’d shrink the equipment. For all the rules they’re trying to put in on equipment measurements? Put a weight limit on it. That’ll shrink it quickly," Fuhr told us last season when the topic arose.
So, are the particulars of the coach's challenge distracting from the larger issue here?
Babcock was victorious in the league's inaugural bench challenge, scratching a presumptive Montreal goal off the board on opening night. Since then, however, Toronto — a club hard-pressed for points as it is — has witnessed two of its own goals evaporate via video review.
But in all three cases, the NHL's new challenge rule has ironically clawed back at the purpose of so many of its other recent rules, such as the removal of the red line, the introduction of the trapezoid, and the tinkering of face-offs to favour the offensive side: Precious goals are now even harder to come by.
"To me the goal we scored [Friday night on Henrik] Lundqvist, I think that should count. I think that's hockey," Babcock said. "But it doesn't matter what I think. They never ask me what I think."
We're all for protecting the goaltender and getting offsides correct, but we've seen multiple cases where the challenge has gnawed at the momentum of play and X'd out a goal we'd rather keep.
"We can do all the reviews we want, I just hope they don't take back goals," Babcock said. "We get quality chances every night, [but] the goals don't go in. The goalies are too good for the size of the net."