Tomlinson's Trends: Shorthanded goals

Tuesday, 05.02.2013 / 6:00 PM
Dave Tomlinson

Hi, Dave Tomlinson here…Colour Commentator for the Vancouver Canucks on Team1040.ca, and I have to say, I am wildly appreciative of the opportunity to contribute to Canucks.com during this lockout shortened hockey season.

I’ll be doing my best to keep you in the know of the pertinent trends that are showing themselves throughout the hockey year.

So here we go:

One of the biggest challenges for coaches and managers in the NHL is to stay ahead of the pack when it comes to new and different ways to not only put together teams and rosters, but to create game plans and strategies that will help generate more offence, while at the same time tightening up defensively. But in looking for more goals – where have all the short-handed ones gone?

The most noticeable thing I’ve seen early this season is the willingness of opposition coaches to put four forwards and a defenceman out on the power play in each of the games the Canucks have played this year. Although that is not a novel idea, this concept has not only crept from the top power play units of some teams, but to their second unit as well. The obvious reason for having a forward on the point on the power play versus a defenceman is a forward’s inclination to keep pucks in the zone, even in risky situations, compared to a defenceman who will typically default to playing safe and back off the blue line in anticipation of the puck leaving the zone. Forwards on the point also look to make passes through people whereas defenceman mostly stay away from such hazardous plays because of the turn-over factor, as a shorthanded goal against is one of the biggest deflators in momentum there is.

A quick glance at the top power play teams early this season shows Western Conference opponents that the Canucks have played using the four forward model. San Jose, Anaheim and Edmonton are three that come to mind, and with that, the thought would be that penalty killers could exploit a forward playing back on the blueline and perhaps pot a short-handed goal.

To date the Canucks have none.

And that to me this is where the biggest surprise is. As of this writing, there has only been 13 total shorthanded goals scored in 127 games played so far, equalling about one every 10 games. Last year there were 185 shorthanded goals scored, which means if this season’s ratio holds, there will be over 50 goals missing a man down. That adds up.

The trend now is for teams to worry only about killing the penalty and not look to score shorthanded as in the past. It now seems that the risk has changed sides as instead of coaches being nervous to add an extra forward to the man-advantage because of the potential of giving up a goal with a defensively inferior player on defence, the penalty killing units are the ones that have adopted the “dump the puck down and get fresh legs out on the ice” mentality. They are the ones that don’t want to get caught up ice involved in a fruitless rush that quickly turns into backchecking and scoring chances against with tired legs.

With the defence-first approach, we’re seeing more safer, low-risk hockey and the potential decline of the short-handed goal.

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