Before you answer, consider:
—- Of the six teams that have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, five of them (Pittsburgh, Boston, Vancouver, Detroit and Chicago) finished in the top seven in goals per game during the regular season.
—- If Ottawa is eliminated tonight, it’ll make six of seven.
—- The top two defensive teams, St. Louis and Los Angeless, are still alive.
—- If the Rangers win tonight, that’ll make it the top three.
—- Nashville and Phoenix are still alive, both with a reputation for playing a defensive style.
—- Washington advanced to the second round, with much of the credit going to coach Dale Hunter for convincing the Capitals to commit to defense and having the courage to limit Alex Ovechkin’s ice time.
Granted, not everyone’s on board with defense.
The general managers of the Blackhawks and Canucks – Stan Bowman and Mike Gillis, respectively – have said they’ll continue to focus on scoring goals.
“Two years ago, we won the Cup, and two unheralded goaltenders went to the Finals in [Antti] Niemi and [Michael] Leighton,” said Bowman. “Everyone was saying, ‘I guess goaltending’s not that important. You don’t need to have a supposed great goaltender to win the Cup.’
“Here we are, two years later, and it’s shifting back the other way. Whatever’s happening that season, people put emphasis on. This year, goaltending had really ruled the league. Is that the way it’s going to be, going forward? It’s tough to predict.”
Said Gillis: “I don’t think it’s coincidence four teams left in the West don’t have a player that averaged a point a game. They all have outstanding goaltenders, they surround the guy, block tons of shots, limit scoring opportunities, and the teams that play more our style are out. You can’t change mid-stream. I believe in offense. I always have. I believe the league believes in offense. If not we should change the name of the game to goalie.”
Whether you’re alarmed by the trend towards defensive hockey depends on your taste (and probably which team you support), but generally sports fans enjoy scoring.
If the NHL does choose to address the issue, it could look at clamping down on obstruction (again) and/or reducing the size of goalie pads.
It could even explore radical measures, like making rules to prevent teams from collapsing around their goalies. Which while unlikely to be implemented would at least get people talking.