NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
If you have been paying even the slightest bit of attention to the NHL’s North Division (aka the Canadian Division) you might have noticed that the seven teams residing there are playing a completely different brand of hockey than the rest of the league.
If you like goals, if you like chaos, if you like unpredictability and wild games then this is the place to be. Defense and goaltending? Not in this division, my friend. This is pond hockey at its absolute finest as pretty much every game seems to turn into track meet where nobody can stop anybody else. Quite honestly, it’s great.
The Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets, who will be meeting on Wednesday night (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN), are two of the teams leading that offensive charge. They have already played three games against each other that have resulted in a total of 28 goals, including the Jets’ 6-5 win on Monday night.
The numbers across the division are wild.
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On a team basis, four of the top-eight teams in the league in terms of goals-per-game reside in the North, including the Oilers and Jets who enter Wednesday’s game sitting at fifth and sixth respectively.
As a division, North Division teams are averaging 3.23 goals per game, which is by far the highest total of any of the league’s four divisions. By comparison, Central Division teams are averaging 2.92 goals per game, East Division teams are averaging 2.88 goals per game, and West division teams are averaging just 2.69 goals per game.
How much of a difference is that? Just consider that over the course of a 56-game season a team that scores 3.23 goals per game is going to score nearly 20 more goals than a team that averages 2.92 goals. It is 30 more goals than a team that averages 2.69 per game. That is a significant difference.
On an individual level, nine of the top-11 goal scorers in the league play in the North Division, including four players taking part in Wednesday’s game (Nikolaj Ehlers with 10 goals, Connor McDavid with nine goals, and Leon Draisaitl and Kyle Conner each with eight).
If you go down a little further, it is 14 of the top-20 goal scorers all playing in the North.
So what is causing these numbers?
There are probably a few factors at play.
[2020-21 NHL on NBC TV SCHEDULE]
For one, there is a ton of high-end individual talent in the division with players like McDavid, Draisaitl, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, the Canucks’ young kids, Johnny Gaudreau, and Winnipeg’s top-heavy roster of forwards. Some of the league’s most dynamic offensive players play on these seven teams, including two of the past three MVP winners (McDavid and Draisaitl) and maybe this year’s MVP winner (Matthews).
But perhaps the most important factor is that a lot of these teams just so happen to have the same significant flaws, and they all get to play each other over and over again. Outside of Toronto, there was not one other team in the division that was even close to being a preseason Stanley Cup favorite or contender.
While this division boasts some of the best individual talent in the league, it also has some of the least efficient defensive teams in the league. Both the Oilers and Jets have suspect defenses that are the clear Achilles heels of their roster. Ottawa is in a full-blown rebuild mode and is not only getting anything from its defense and goalies. For as good as the top of Vancouver’s lineup is, the bottom half and defense are suspect at best.
Superstar talent getting to play against nothing but bottom half of the league defenses every night creates an environment where goal scoring could flourish. So far this season, it has.
Now we get to see if it continues on Wednesday. Given the forward talent and lack of defensive depth on these two teams, it certainly seems possible.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.