More power plays, better proficiency in first week
Were this a standard NHL season, most teams would still be feeling their way eight days into their 82-game schedule. But the four or five games already in the books for most clubs are a lot bigger percentage of this season's 48-game schedule -- magnifying the importance of each game and giving teams much less room for error.
The compacted schedule has meant fewer practices and off days, no out-of-conference games and a big jump in intensity -- a three- or four-game losing streak means a lot more when the schedule is more than 40 percent shorter than usual.
It's tempting to think that the alterations teams have had to make to cope with the shorter schedule have affected the way the game is played. But a comparison of the 64 games played on the first eight days of the new season with a similar number of games in 2011-12 shows fewer differences than some people might think.
Here's a comparison of the opening stages of this season with the start of the last one:
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Through the first week of the season (64 games), there was an average of 5.66 non-shootout goals scored. That's barely above the 5.63 per game scored during the same span in 2011-12.
Don't be surprised if that average goes down as the season progresses. The 2011-12 season ended with an average of just 5.32 goals per game.
Where are the goals coming from?
A lot more of the goals being scored are coming on the power play, partly because teams are getting more chances and partly because they're doing a better job of converting those chances.
Through the 64 games played thus far this season, teams have scored 120 power-play goals, a big jump from the 84 scored in the same number of games in '11-12. But the number of power plays is also way up -- this season's first 64 games have generated 583 opportunities, up from 506 last season. In the early stages of 2011-12, teams scored on 16.6 percent of their power-play chances (that figure went up to 17.3 percent by season's end). This season, it's 20.6 percent -- a figure that hasn't been reached for a full season since 1989-90 (20.8 percent).
Again, don't be surprised if some these figures decline as the season goes on. For all of the 2011-12 season, the average number of power plays was 6.61 -- although the success rate climbed to 17.3 percent by season's end.
It seems like the penalty boxes are awfully full. Are they?
Compared with recent years, they are.
This season's first 64 games have seen an average of just more than 30 penalty minutes. That's not an enormous number by some historic standards -- 20 years ago, the average was 45.3 minutes. But it's a big jump from last season, when the 1,230 games saw an average of just 22.4 penalty minutes.
There have already been more than a dozen calls that have seen players penalized for playing the puck with a gloved hand in the faceoff circle or covering the puck with a glove to keep an opponent from playing it. Toronto center Mikhail Grabovski has the dubious distinction of being a two-time offender on faceoffs -- he's been penalized in each of the last two games for using his hand to play the puck off a draw.
How about three-point games?
With so much on the line in every game, one thought might be the number of games going past regulation would jump -- but that hasn't been the case so far.
A shootout win Saturday by Anaheim against Nashville was just the seventh game to go to the tiebreaker this season; at the same point last season, 13 games -- more than one in every five -- had gone to a shootout. Five other games were decided in overtime, down from six in the same span last season.
The 12 games that have ended up with three points awarded represent just 18.8 percent of the games played thus far, with only 10.9 percent going to a shootout. At the same point last season, 29.7 percent of all games were three-pointers and 20.3 percent ended in shootouts. For all of 2011-12, 24.4 games went past regulation and 14.7 wound up in a shootout.
Only 12 teams won their home openers. Have home teams done any better since then?
In a word, yes. Teams went just 12-16-2 in home openers, down from 15-14-1 last season. But through the first 64 games in this shortened season are 33-26-5, while visiting teams are 31-27-6.
However, home teams have started the season much worse than they did in 2011-12. At the same point in October 2011, home teams were 37-18-7; visiting clubs were 27-27-10.
Are any teams markedly different than they were at the same point in 2011-12.
The Washington Capitals obviously have some work to do to get used to new coach Adam Oates' system. Washington enters the games Sunday with an 0-3-1 mark; not only did the Caps win their first four games in '11-12, they ran off seven straight wins before losing.
Some other fast starters last season aren't doing nearly as well in the early going. Toronto was 3-0-1 in '11-12; the Maple Leafs are 2-3-0 this season. Detroit has split four games so far after winning their first four last season.
Three teams enter action Sunday with perfect records -- in the West, Chicago is 5-0-0 and San Jose is 4-0-0. The Hawks were 3-1-1 at the same point, while the Sharks were 1-3-0. The only perfect team in the East is New Jersey at 3-0-0; at the same point in the schedule last season, the Devils had played four games and were 3-1-0.