Penalties and power plays were at the centre of attention through the NHL’s pre-season, as the league instructed its officials to call the game differently and set a new standard for faceoff violations and slashing. The former hasn’t been such a factor in the regular season, but slashing penalties (especially those whacks to the hands) have continued into the regular season and impacted the league as a whole.
Just how much of an impact has this new standard had? First, let’s take a look at how many power plays have been handed out so far. Sportsnet Stats provided the total count prior to Thursday night’s games, when the league had played through 50 games, and compared it to past seasons.
League-wide, there had been 64 more power plays given out this season compared to the same point last season. It’s not nearly at the level it was out of the 2004-05 lockout, but this is a significant step back in that direction.
And it appears most of this uptick in power plays has to do with the slash-to-the-hands crackdown. SN Stats also compiled the total number of slashing penalties year over year to the same point in the season and we can see a major increase in these kinds of calls.
Slashing Penalties Through 57 Season Games Since 2013-14:
|SEASON GAMES||SLASHING PENALTIES|
*We used 61 games for 2016-17 because ongoing games were overlapping during the 57th game.*
Currently according to hockey-reference.com teams are averaging 4.22 power play opportunities per game, the highest level since 2007-08 when teams averaged 4.28 PP opportunities over a full season. It’s a huge jump from last season, increasing by 1.23 opportunities per game. Teams are averaging .75 power play goals per game, a level that hasn’t been matched since 2008-09.
But if this slashing standard keeps up, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee we’ll see a swell in goal-scoring league-wide across an 82-game season. If we go back to 2007-08, which this season most closely compares to through these early stages, we’ll see the goal totals resemble 2016-17 (2.77 goals per game) more than 2005-06 (3.08 goals per game).
Whether or not this new standard for slashing continues is something to monitor, but it’s worth noting that when the NHL came out of the 2004-05 lockout with a new focus on cracking down on obstruction, it stuck to those guns for at least one full season. If an uptick in goals is what you’re hoping to see this season, then it’s at least promising the NHL appears committed to tightening its standard on slashing. Not only would that create more season-long power plays, but also more uninterrupted scoring chances as players shy away from the infraction.
At the same time, 5-on-5 goals will surely slow as coaches sink their teeth into their systems. Unless power play conversion rates rise, goals scoring by the end of the season may not end up being much more than last season anyway.