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Dave Lozo's Bag Skate: Are We Headed for a Low-Scoring, Boring Postseason?

Dave Lozo@@davelozoNHL National Lead WriterApril 7, 2015

ST. PAUL, MN - NOVEMBER 29: Mikael Granlund #64 of the Minnesota Wild is called for hooking penalty against Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues during the game on November 29, 2014 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)
Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images

Scoring in the NHL is just about where it was last season—teams are averaging 2.74 goals per game in 2014-15, which is what they averaged in 2013-14. The number was 2.72 in 2013 and 2.73 in 2011-12. This is what the NHL has become, despite the league's best efforts to tweak rules to increase scoring.

The alarming number, assuming you have the ability to be alarmed by sports numbers, is 3.08.

That number represents the average number of power plays an NHL team is averaging per game in 2014-15.

Why is it alarming? That's the lowest number since...well, maybe ever. Hockey-Reference.com only tracks the statistic as far back as the 1963-64 season, and this is as low as it's been in more than 50 years.

While the number is only slightly lower than recent years, it's still as low as ever. This represents a potential problem when the postseason begins next week.

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 24:  Referee Francis Charron #6 calls a hooking penalty during the game between the Winnipeg Jets and the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 24, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Im
Andy Marlin/Getty Images

This lower number of power-play opportunities, as much as the optimist who sees the good in everyone wants to believe, is not because NHL players have a firmer grasp of the rules and are thus taking fewer penalties. NHL players have a firmer grasp of two things: 1) How far they can push the envelope without receiving an interference penalty and 2) their opponent's stick, jersey or body in a way that's no longer drawing calls.

The slippery slope of what is or isn't interference has slipped to rock bottom. While NHL's Hockey Operations department takes a brave stand against diving (the only way to draw a penalty these days, it seems), penalties are being called less frequently than they were before 2004-05 lockout, when the rules were changed to allow for a more free-flowing game that sought to punish the hooking and holding that turned most games into 2-1 borefests.

That's what we are potentially facing with the 2015 postseason—a throwback to the days of 2003-04 hockey, when games looked more like a middle school slow dance.

It's not breaking news that clutching and grabbing becomes more prevalent in the playoffs and as the games become tighter, especially late, the whistles go away. There are no statistics that prove this, as there's no way to irrefutably show the number of penalties not called in a game, but this textbook hook by Jaromir Jagr on Evgeni Malkin that led to a game-winning (2-1) goal is exactly the type of thing that doesn't get called in the playoffs as often as it should.

Basically, if you're of the belief that regular-season hockey has been as unwatchable as it's been in a long time, you should brace yourself for what awaits you in the playoffs.

Here's the part that makes everything above seem wrong or perhaps crazy, the ramblings of a man who needs fresh air. That's something I accept as possible.

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 13: Jay Bouwmeester #4 of the Calgary Flames is called for hooking against Craig Smith #15 of the Nashville Predators during an NHL game at the Bridgestone Arena on December 13, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell
John Russell/Getty Images

In last year's playoffs, there were 667 power plays in 186 team games, an average of 3.59 per game. In the regular season, the number was 3.27.

In the 2013 playoffs, there were 577 power plays in 172 games, an average of 3.35 per game. In the regular season, the number was 3.32.

In the 2012 playoffs, there were 643 power plays in 172 games, an average of 3.74 per game. In the regular season, the number was 3.31.

Dave, how can you tell us to expect more whistle-swallowing when there has been more whistle-blowing on average the past three postseasons?

One, it's my unprovable, subjective assertion that more infractions are ignored in the postseason than the regular season. If you feel differently about this, agree to disagree. But I assure you that I watch an unhealthy, disgusting amount of hockey, and I do so without caring who wins, so I feel like I have a good bead on bad non-calls.

Two, well, that's really it. I just didn't want to make it seem like I was hiding or unaware of facts.

One last thing to keep in mind, if you tend to disagree that referees are calling fewer penalties (in relation to actual infractions): In the past three postseasons, there have been 95 overtimes of varying lengths and 31 power plays awarded. Of those 31, five have been for delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass, three have been for too many men and seven have been for high-sticking.

That means in three seasons' worth of playoff overtime, there have been just 15 penalties called for impeding another player's movement.

If you solely receive enjoyment from watching your favorite team win, even if it's with hooking and holding to the point the game is taken back to 1995, that's fine. Heck, that should be how you get enjoyment from watching hockey.

But if you're into watching any hockey as long as it is of high quality and a free-flowing nature, you may be in for a letdown.

A 1-0 hockey game can be just as, if not more exciting than a 6-5 game. But with the way the NHL is trending toward the type of yawn-inducing hockey of the dead-puck era, that's probably not going to be the case in the 2015 playoffs.

Quote of the Week: Jon Cooper vs. Darryl Sutter

Lightning coach Jon Cooper and Kings coach Darryl Sutter are the two most quotable coaches in the NHL. Each week, we will let you decide who had the best quote.

Darryl Sutter closes the season in championship fashion.

"Happy Easter. Nighttime Painting Services."

What? Yep. That's what he said. This one requires the video. Stay until the end.

Jon Cooper has famously gone from lawyer to hockey coach, which means he falls under the "never played the game" category. In an interview with Sportsnet, he was asked if his former profession has helped in anyway with this seemingly unrelated one.

I was a trial attorney, and you have to be comfortable speaking in front of people. You have to formulate an argument and convince a jury or judge of your argument. It's no different than addressing a team. You're convincing your team: "This is how we're playing. This is what we're going to do." They've got to believe in what they're doing, and you've got to be comfortable talking in front of people.

The whole interview is worth reading.

Who Is Connor McDavid-ing This Week?

The tank battle for Connor McDavid will be quite the scene this season as teams stumble over each other to finish last in the standings, thus guaranteeing either McDavid or future American hero Jack Eichel.

30. Buffalo Sabres (23-49-8, 54 points): With a chance to clinch 30th on Monday night, the Sabres beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3. All the Sabres need is one regulation loss in their final two games to secure a top-two pick in the 2015 draft. Those games are at Columbus, which is 9-0-1 in its past 10 games, and home against the Penguins, who are reeling but desperate for points. The Sabres can't possibly blow this. Can they?

29. Arizona Coyotes (24-47-8, 56 points): The good news for the Coyotes is their final three games are all losable. They are at Calgary and Vancouver before finishing the season at home against Anaheim. The problem for the Coyotes is even if the Sabres help them out, the Ducks may rest regulars in that final game. The Coyotes had all season to take care of business, so there's no one to blame for their current predicament but themselves.

Goal of the Week

I admit this is a weird goal and is not aesthetically pleasing, but I thought it was unbelievably clever, and there may be five other guys in the league who can pull off the no-look goal from the blue line.

Remember when Magic Johnson would make those no-look passes to James Worthy? No? Ask your parents. That's what this Keith Yandle goal was like. Instead of looking off a defender to make a sweet pass, he does it to score a goal. It's like a no-look three-pointer. Find another goal like this. You can't.

Questions and Answers

Got a question? Tweet me @davelozo or email me at dave111177@gmail.com, but please don't call before 9 a.m. I will answer any of your questions about hockey or whatever if it's a good question.

Dave,

Which NHL coach firing will be the most unexpected this offseason?

Andy

The phrasing of your question creates something of a paradox. If I believe a coach will be fired, how can I consider it unexpected? For it to be the most unexpected, I'd really have to be floored when the firing is announced. Like, the Kings win the Cup, Darryl Sutter sits down at a podium the next day and Dean Lombardi stumbles into the room, slightly hungover, slightly intoxicated from the night before and screams directly into Sutter's face, "You're fired!"

That would be really unexpected.

Let's create an expectation spectrum, with "definitely fired" at one end (Ted Nolan) and "definitely not fired" (Sutter) at the other end. Which coach near the Sutter end could I envision in my wildest dreams getting fired even though I don't think he should be fired so he can fall under the "unexpected" category?

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Todd Richards.

That'd be crazy, right? The Blue Jackets are closing strong despite playing most of this season under a plague spell cast by a witch. (My other theories are a team employee slipping lithium into everyone's protein shakes and John Davidson building a home on an ancient burial ground).

Richards has missed the playoffs four times in five full seasons. The team's raw Fenwick is 46.7 percent, which is to be expected with the aforementioned plague/poisoning/curse, but the Jackets were below 50 percent last season when they reached the playoffs. So maybe, but no way.

Richards is also signed to an extension through the 2016-17 season.

If Richards were to be fired, that would be the most unexpected firing of the offseason.

Dave,

How long do we have to wait for a new (or old) playoff system to be put in place? Is there anything good about the current one that I'm missing? Anything at all that could hold me over while I wait??

Thanks in advance for this sports insight,

Jeff

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 09:  The New York Rangers stand on the ice before taking on the Los Angeles Kings in Game Three of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final at Madison Square Garden on June 9, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

With this letter in my inbox, I am now aware of the fact that people hate 1) the Presidents' Trophy, 2) the draft lottery and now 3) the playoff system. Does anyone actually like hockey? Are we all just pretending? Are we watching out of habit? Should we start a band?

The only thing I don't like is the wild-card crossover situation. I understand why they have it, with the imbalanced conferences, but the NHL placing an emphasis on divisional play, then potentially jettisoning teams to other divisions for the playoffs is goofy.

Either go with the top eight, then have No. 1 vs. No. 8, No. 2 vs. No. 7, etc., or just go old school Patrick/Norris/Smythe/Adams and let it strictly be a divisional thing.

But really, it's tolerable, albeit confusing for some, this way.

Dave,

What do you think the Sharks will do for goaltending next season, assuming Antti Niemi moves on as a free agent?

cheers,

Pat

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 27:  Antti Niemi #31 and Alex Stalock #32 of the San Jose Sharks celebrate after defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 7-3 on February 27, 2014 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI v
Len Redkoles/Getty Images

The Sharks seem to really like Alex Stalock. He has a .920 career save percentage while facing 1,086 shots, although he's at .907 this season while facing about half his career total shots. I don't think they like him enough to just turn the starting job over to him, and they shouldn't, but they turned over the net to him in Game 6 against the Kings last season.

If the Sharks want a 50-50 split in net, bringing back Thomas Greiss is something I'd endorse. He's been below average this season (.908), which has dragged his career number (.913) to right around average, but I always thought he could be good over 40-50 games in the right situation.

Then again, I'm not a GM. Although letting two young(-ish), unproven guys on cheap one-year deals battle it out during a "rebuild" is probably the way to go for San Jose.

Greiss, Michal Neuvirth and maybe even Josh Harding, depending on his health situation, seem like nice options.

Dave,

If there were to be a sitcom based on a current NHLer, who would you want it to be and what would the title be? Would Darryl Sutter narrate? Maybe a reality show?

Thanks for your insight bro-beans.

- "Shane"

It depends on the type of show.

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Sit-com – The Aaron Ekblad and Willie Mitchell Show: He's a teen. He's old. Together they make for hilarious hijinks and unexpected situations while living together in Florida.

"Aaron!"

Aaron Ekblad walks into the living room, which features empty Old Milwaukee cans and cigarette butts all over the place.

"Did you throw a party while me and my wife were away at a bed and breakfast?"

Ekblad shrugs while looking into the camera (cue laugh track).

Reality – Dating Del Zotto: Every week, Michael Del Zotto dates a new woman that he met either through a porn star or Instagram. It's like The Bachelor—only way, way better.

Drama – Toronto vs. The Media: The fighting. The backstabbing. The tears. It will all be captured here on this Scandal/The Good Wife knockoff starring Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf and prominent members of the Toronto hockey media.

Phil: "They said I'm last on the ice at practice...and I shoot the puck too high in warm-ups...and my body language...why do they hate me?! Why?!"

Dion: "Shhh. There, there. Shhh. Don't cry. I'm your captain. I'm your rock. Lean on me."

Brendan Shanahan overhears the talk, rips off his shirt, storms into the Air Canada Centre press box and begins throwing reporters down into the seats.

At Shanahan's trial, the judge will be played by Rob Ford.

All statistics via NHL.com. Advanced stats via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com. Cap information via Spotrac.

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.

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