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Old 12-15-2007, 05:24 PM   #283
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Default What happened to all the offense in NHL?

Pretty interesting artical concerning how defense has adapted to the new obstruction rules.


By MICHAEL RUSSO, Star Tribune

LOS ANGELES - Fifteen goals were scored in a game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flames on Thursday, but as the saying goes, "Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while."

If you've scoured hockey boxscores or watched the games lately and noticed, like San Jose Sharks superstar Joe Thornton has, that every game "seems like it's 2-1 again," you're not seeing things.

Despite rule changes two years ago intended to boost offense, NHL scoring is again on the decline and nearing pre-lockout levels.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, through 455 games this season, 5.57 goals were scored per game, only half a goal greater than 2003-04. Through the same point in 2005-06, goals per game was at 6.22, or a 1.2 increase over 2003-04.

What does this illustrate? Despite the obstruction crackdown, two-line passes being permitted, bigger offensive zones and goalie puckhandling restrictions, teams have adjusted.

"There's no room out there," said Thornton, the three-time 100-point scorer who led the NHL with 125 points in 2005-06, when he won the Hart Trophy as league MVP.

All defense all the time

There are several factors for the decline (still supersized goalies, a decline in power plays because players know not to obstruct, better technology that has led to more blocked shots because players are fearless).

But the biggest factor seems to be defensive coaches making space tight.

"Look at all the hockey highlights," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "Teams are so good defensively. Ten years ago, half the teams didn't play sound defensively. Twenty years ago, maybe a quarter, 30 percent were solid defensively.

"Now it's 30 teams -- period. It's easier to teach guys how to stop scoring than how to score."

So all coaches emulate each other. "Teams are changing systems to what other teams are having success with," Anaheim Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said.

San Jose coach Ron Wilson agreed, saying: "Coaches copy the good defensive teams like us and Minnesota. You get imitated. Two decades ago, you didn't watch video. One, you couldn't find a tape. Two, with travel, you didn't have time to break down video. Now we watch each other."

Besides trapping in the neutral zone, the latest craze is packing five players around the net. "Everybody wants to play 0-0, 1-1 hockey," the Wild's Pavol Demitra said.

Wild veteran Brian Rolston was shocked against San Jose when he skated to the top of the Sharks' zone and San Jose wingers didn't even consider coming at him.

"I've noticed the same thing," Ducks checker Rob Niedermayer said. "You're in their end cycling the puck and everything's condensed. Then you get to the point and you've got to shoot through that mess."

This is the byproduct of the obstruction crackdown, Wilson said. Since players who skate into the corner are at risk of hooking and holding penalties, coaches have directed, "Don't leave the front of the net."

Check goalie equipment?

Wilson says it's time to again focus on goaltenders' equipment or making nets bigger. After the lockout, the size of goalie equipment was reduced by 11 percent.

"They're still enormous," Wilson said. "Back when I played, you wing a goalie with a shot, that hurt. Now goalies are fearless, so they're less likely to bail on a shot. Watch the goals going in back in the old days, you're going: 'He bailed on that. He lifted his head right out of the way,' because they were afraid. These are guys that are in the Hall of Fame now."

Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough agrees. "It's eye-opening watching these classic games and seeing how small the goalies were," he said. "You see so much more net. You see goals being scored from way out. You don't see that anymore.

"I don't buy the argument about more protection. With the fabrics they have today and the Kevlar that's there, these guys don't get hurt."

Recently, however, Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo suffered bruised ribs from a blast from the Wild's Aaron Voros.

"We've done our part," Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere said. "We shrank our equipment down. Now guys like Roberto are getting hurt. There's not much more we can do. At the end of day, it's not what the problem is. We'll shrink our equipment down more and goals are still going to go down."

Wilson suggests either making the nets bigger or changing the design of the back of the net to a lacrosse-type triangular net.

"Why do we have the big bloop out?" Wilson said. "It was to stop the puck to enable the goal judge to see if the puck went in. Well, we don't even have goal judges anymore. We have video.

"If you have a triangular back, you'll have more wraparounds, you can actually go stand behind a goalie's shoulder and make a flat pass off the post on the other side. You can't make that pass now because it hits the back of the net. It's just a way to confuse defenSeimian."

Risebrough and Lemaire said that would just cause more ugly, crashing-the-net hockey and that something dramatic needs to be done like Lemaire's idea to make the offensive zone half the rink (see Saturday's Wild notebook).

"There is an initiative now to make big changes," Risebrough said. "You can adjust to modest changes as evidence of goals going down again. So if you want the solution to be a lot more goals, we have to make a lot more, dramatic changes."
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