Teams doing more with fewer power plays

Friday, 03.22.2013 / 10:37 AM
John Kreiser  - Columnist

Teams are converting their power-play opportunities better than they have in any season since 2008-09. They're just not getting many chances to do it. Power plays per game dropped to a 34-year low of 6.61 per game last season, and that total will end up even lower in 2012-13 if current trends continue.

Whether it's officials allowing more things to go uncalled or players adapting to the way games are called, power plays are plummeting as the season goes on. The first quarter of the season saw an average of 8.28 power plays per game. By the end of February, that number was down to 7.67 -- and through Thursday's games, the average had dropped to 7.10 per game.

More telling is the fact that power plays this month continue to drop. The 153 games played so far this month have seen an average of just 5.99 power plays -- matching the average of the last three-plus months of 2011-12. If the March average were to continue through the remainder of 2012-13, the full-season average would drop to 6.55; the last time there were fewer power plays per game was 1977-78 (6.38).

Philadelphia and San Jose are the only teams averaging more than four power plays per game; Anaheim, Boston, Winnipeg and Colorado are averaging fewer than three. Philadelphia and Dallas are the only teams allowing opponents more than four advantages per game.

Though they're not getting as much practice, teams are connecting on the power play at the best rate since '08-09. Through 450 games, the success rate is 18.5 percent, a big jump from last season's figure of 17.3 percent. Since 1993-94, the only full-season success rate better than this season's percentage is the 18.9 percent teams posted in '08-09.

Isles still can't close -- If the New York Islanders want to end their five-year playoff drought, they're going to have to figure out how to keep the puck out of their net in the third period.

The Islanders allowed a League-high 93 goals in the third period last season, and they've surrendered 45 in their first 30 games this season, by far the most in the NHL (Winnipeg is next with 38). The Isles have been outscored 7-0 in the third period in their two games this week; they allowed four goals to Ottawa on Tuesday that turned a 3-1 lead into a 5-3 loss, then surrendered three unanswered goals to Montreal in a 5-2 loss Thursday night.

New York is on the way to allowing more third-period goals than any other team for the third time in five seasons. The last time they weren't among the seven worst third-period teams was 2006-07, when they were 14th -- and coincidentally, that was the last time they qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Stam the man -- It took Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos just 354 games to reach the 200-goal mark -- No. 200 was an empty-netter against the Flyers on Tuesday. That goal put him into some pretty select company.

Stamkos reached 200 goals in fewer games than all but two other active players -- Alex Ovechkin did it in 296 games and Teemu Selanne in 322. At 23 years, one month and 11 days, he was the fourth-youngest 200-goal scorer, trailing only Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Dale Hawerchuk.

Stamkos might have been higher on both lists had his career not gotten off to a slow start -- he scored just six goals in his first 51 games as a rookie in 2008-09 before notching 17 in his last 28 games that season, then scoring 51, 45 and 60 in the next three, as well as a League-leading 21 in his first 29 games this season.

Different styles, same results -- The Pittsburgh Penguins have been perfect in March -- they are riding a 10-game winning streak as they come to Long Island on Friday night. But the two halves of the streak couldn't be more different.

In the first five games, the Penguins looked like the run-and-gun squads from the '90s. They outscored the opposition 26-18 and had four or more goals in every game. In contrast, the next five games saw them score just 13 times, and no more than three in any of them. However, Pittsburgh gave up just five goals -- and only three in the past four games.

History says the Penguins have an excellent chance at win No. 11 -- their opponent, the Islanders, are 0-4-0 in the second half of back-to-backs this season and are coming off a 5-2 loss to Montreal on Thursday.

Polite hosts -- The number of shootouts decided in the minimum four shots is at an all-time high (21.0 percent), which makes Winnipeg's 10-round win at Toronto all the more interesting. It was the longest shootout in more than two years (since Buffalo beat Montreal in a 10-rounder on Feb. 15, 2011), and the 21st to reach double figures since the tiebreaker was adopted in 2005.

Winnipeg's win also continued a trend that has seen the visiting team win nine of the last 10 "long" shootouts. The record is still 15 rounds between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 26, 2005 -- that tiebreaker was ended by Marek Malik's famous stick-through-the-legs shot.

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