Monday, January 21, 2013

Power plays up 38% in NHL's opening weekend, but we've seen this before

Through two days and 17 games, the 2013 NHL season has seen a lot of disorganization and choppy game play (and I'm not just referring to NHL's Gamecentre, which has led to numerous reports of bad streaming quality and unexpected blackouts). It's apparent that the short training camp has meant that teams aren't fully back in game shape, both in terms of fitness and familiarity. Of particular note is that penalties are up significantly through the first two days: we've seen an average of 9.1 power plays per game, which is a 38% increase over last season's average of 6.6.

Unsurprisingly, this has also coincided with an increase in scoring overall: goals are up 9%. So far in 2013, we're getting 5.79 goals per game compared to last year's 5.32.

Is this indicative of anything? Well, yes - we've seen much tighter calls on hooking in particular, with refs blowing the whistle on even a slight tap into the hands. There are a few factors at work here; players are a little undisciplined early, making lazy plays, and many are not at a mid-season fitness level yet. Playing in the AHL or the Swiss league is certainly helpful, but there's no way those leagues can replicate the speed they're now dealing with in NHL play. What's more, it seems the referees are erring on the side of making the call to 'set the tone' early on.

Will it last? Definitely not. Last season's opening weekend featured 8.6 power plays per game, and it seems like an opening week penalty-fest has become standard in the NHL. The referees seem to have been given the usual edict to 'call it tight' for the first few games. Things should return to normal in short order.

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