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Hopefully you didn't blink
New rules help scoring already
10/11/05 - by Derick Bellamy

If you did, you probably missed a goal. In fact, you might have missed two. There were 13 of them. And, though the Sharks ended up winning 7-6 with a late goal from Jonathan Cheechoo, while bringing their record up to 1 and 2, this still begs the question: what should one expect this season, from San Jose as well as the rest of the NHL?

Is it the two-line passes, the goalie not being allowed to leave his trapezoid if he's behind the net, the bigger offensive zones, and all the other new rules that caused us to be reminded of good not-that-old 80s hockey? Is this a scoring game again, and like the Penguins Website said after they signed Sidney Crosby, 'A Good Day For Hockey'?

One might say that the era beginning in 1968 (expansion) is now over because of the influence of the lockout. Or maybe the era we're leaving behind began in 1995, which is when the first (and shorter) lockout took place, and is often considered to be the year that scoring started really going down; New Jersey's famous defense did sweep Detroit in the finals that year. Lastly, we just might find that hockey's not going to be very different. Despite San Jose's high-scoring win last night, that would probably be good for them.

Last year, San Jose averaged 2.2 goals against them per game, with 2.67 for them. The league overall had a 2.55 goals per game average. This shows that San Jose's defensive advantage was more than twice as large as its offensive advantage.

So far this season there's been an average of 6.5 goals per game in the NHL. Or, if you want a typical score to imagine, think of a 4 to 3 game, or a 3.25 to 3.25 tie. Last year, there was an average of 5.1 goals per game, which can be represented by a 3 to 2 (or 2.5 to 2.5) score. That's a difference of two goals per game, or one per team per game.

The new rules were set up as to allow more scoring, which, as shown above, is what's happened so far. After a 3-2 loss, a 6-3 loss, and a 7-6 win, it's evident that San Jose isn't scoring less (4 per game instead of 2.7,) but that the other teams are simply scoring more (5 per game instead of 2.2.) This suggests that the new rules aren't good for a defensive team, no matter how young and fast they are. Maybe after coming 3rd in the league, the improving Sharks were cut out to succeed in the old NHL.

If their problem is in fact the new rules, San Jose will have to learn to become accustomed to the changes when they're defending their own zone, if they expect an improvement after their lackluster beginning. Which, considering the superfluously higher scoring, is probably something that everyone's going through (though the extent of the increase shows that at least some of the higher scoring will almost certainly persist.) The adjustment could just be going worse for them than others so far. They can only hope that things won't end up very different from last year.

Evgeni Nabokov also hasn't been doing too well in net lately, at an embarrassing 38th place in the NHL for Save Percentage. Vesa Toskala, the back-up who played just as well as Nabokov last year, is technically last at 43rd, though he's only played for about one period (at the beginning of the Chicago game.) Maybe their goalies have to become accustomed to the new rules as well.

Lastly, if The Sharks are going to succeed, they'll also need to exploit the new system, seeing as scoring is going to stay at least partially up. They'll need to continue the kind of scoring they were able produce last game, even on nights when they aren't going up against goalies who are having the worst game of their career, such as St.Louis's Patrick Lalime on Saturday. They also can't expect to continue to edge by 7-6; they won't be able to score seven goals all the time.

Despite all of this doubt, their fans should remember that they did technically win the third game, as well as that the season just began. One should remember that there's reason for them to stay optimistic. And, like any situation in hockey, if the Sharks want to succeed, the most important thing is that they do the same. Remember when they went from 73 points to 104 points? Or when they got those 104 points last season despite finishing October under .500? The defense rests (hopefully theirs won't.)

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