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More Offence in Qualifying Round?

NHL training camps will open on July 10th, as the NHL hopes to complete the 2020 playoffs. Unless medical experts deem it unsafe, the NHL’s plan is to have the qualifying round start in early August. Let’s assume the games start on August 5th, because usually, the playoffs begin on a Wednesday. That will be 147 days since the regular season was postponed.

A normal off-season consists of 16 teams having 175 days between games, and another eight begin their off-season within the next 17 days and so on until the two teams battling for the Stanley Cup usually end their season within the first 10-15 days of June, giving them approximately 122 days off before the next regular season begins.

This current “lock-in” situation is obviously different, because when teams return they will be playing playoff games not regular season games.

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But, because of the 147-day break, will we see more offence in the qualifying round?

My initial instinct was to say yes, and I wasn’t alone. In an interview yesterday with NHL.com, Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane agreed.

“Teams probably don’t have their systems, their defensive structure completely dialled in,” said Kane. “Even though you have time in training camp to try and do that, I think you can never really simulate a true game situation. I think you always see that in the beginning of the season where there’s a lot of scoring to start the season. And it might be a similar situation when you come back, it’ll be a high-scoring series and a lot of offense.”

Do we see more offence early in the regular season?

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I broke down each month, into 15-day segments to see if we saw the offence slowly eroded.

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Dec 16-31 had 16 days in total, but they only played games on 13 of them as the league shut down from Dec 24-26 for Christmas. And the in late January many teams were on bye weeks, hence the smaller number of games played.

The final two weeks in December are an oddity. I thought maybe there was a surge in offence after the three-day break, but between December 27th-31st, the league averaged 3.3 goals/game. For whatever reason the games between December 16th-20th produced the most offence at 3.44 goals/game. Maybe the players were shopping, or maybe it was just matchups during that span which made this two-week stretch produce the highest offence of the season.

Our assumption that the offensive output in the NHL diminishes as the season progresses is correct, but it isn’t a massive difference.

From October to December teams averaged 3.02 goals/game and between January-March we saw 2.92 goals/game. The season average was 2.98 goals/game per team.

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PLAYOFFS ARE DIFFERENT…

Mar 5, 2020; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Edmonton Oilers right wing Kailer Yamamoto (56) scores a goal against Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford (50) during the third period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Last season teams averaged 2.98 goals/game in the regular season and 2.78 goals/game in the postseason.

Usually, we see less scoring in the playoffs, and when you combine that with this unprecedented layoff, I’m questioning my original premise that we might see more goals in qualifying round.

Coaches will have been looking over tape for close to two months of their qualifying round opponent. Then they will have at least two consecutive weeks of training camp with essentially only NHL players and no games. A normal training camp is three days, with 60 skaters and then teams play six to eight preseason games during their three-week training camp.

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Players in camp won’t be auditioning for a spot on the roster. There will be the odd battle for a spot in the lineup, but most coaches will have their lines and defence pairings decided upon, assuming players are in good shape.

Kane was speaking about the Oilers/Hawks series specifically, and I too think their series has the potential for more offence.

The Oilers offence was well above league average in 2020.

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From October to December of 2019 the Oilers averaged 2.93 goals/game, below league-average of 3.02, but from January-March of 2020 they were the second most explosive offence in the NHL averaging 3.45 goals/game, which was well above the league average of 2.92.

They also improved significantly defensively after allowing 3.17 goals/game in Oct-Dec, that dropped to 2.83 goals/game between Jan-March, which was 10th best in the NHL.

In 2020 the Blackhawks scored 3.17 goals/game, tied for 10th most in the NHL, and they allowed 2.97 goals/game which was 17th best.

Admittedly, I prefer to watch more scoring chances and goals than a tight-checking game, and I hope we see that in the qualifying rounds, but an extended training camp, where coaches have over a month to focus on one opponent, while getting their own team back up to speed, has me thinking we might not see as much offence as we’d like.

I hope I’m wrong.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR