Reaching the top of the standings in this season’s NHL means being able to score.
Rule changes increased offense and let the teams with the most firepower thrive. It’s no shock the NHL’s top three teams in points — the Tampa Bay Lightning, San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames — are three of the top four teams in goals scored.
“Fans like goals, and they like to see that,” Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith said. “The whole game is based around the fans and what we’re able to do for them. I think it’s a good thing.”
The NHL restricted the size of goaltender chest and arm pads this offseason, as well as pant size. That gave skaters more room to shoot at, and they’re taking advantage.
Teams are scoring an average of 3.03 goals per game this season, up from 2.97 in 2017-18. It’s the highest average since 2005-06 (3.08) and the second-highest since 1995-96 (3.14).
Knights forward Mark Stone credits more than just rule changes since this is the fourth straight season the league’s scoring average has increased.
“I think players are just faster,” Stone said. “The top teams all have four lines that can play and score. It kind of adds more of a threat. The way the game is going, it’s just so fast out there. Players are so talented, and a lot of the third, fourth lines are youth, so there’s a lot of skill on the ice at all times.”
Stone is right, because the fast, skilled teams are thriving in the NHL this season. The Lightning, who lead the league in points with 112, have scored the most goals per game (3.80) since the 2009-10 Washington Capitals. The Toronto Maple Leafs (3.62), Sharks (3.61) and Flames (3.57) are not far behind in the standings or leaderboard.
The increase in scoring has led to a decrease in shootouts, as 6.36 percent of games have ended with shootouts this season, down from 7.87 percent in 2017-18.
“That’s nice to see,” Smith said.
The NHL announced Wednesday that its draft lottery will be April 9 in Toronto. The odds remain unchanged from last year, meaning the team with the fewest points has an 18.5 percent chance to get the first pick.
That’s currently the Ottawa Senators, but their first-round pick belongs to the Colorado Avalanche because of a three-way trade in November 2017.
Jack Hughes, a 17-year-old left-shot center from Orlando, Florida, is the projected No. 1 pick, according to NHL.com. Hughes plays in USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program and is five points from breaking Arizona Coyotes center Clayton Keller’s career scoring record there (189 points).
“I’ll be doing my best to make it happen,” Hughes told NHL.com. “I have a few games left, and records are being broken, so it’s cool to know what I’ve accomplished here.”
Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid recorded his 100th point of the season Wednesday with an assist on Alex Chiasson’s first-period goal against the New Jersey Devils.
McDavid, 22, became the fifth player to have three or more 100-point seasons before his 23rd birthday, joining Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Dale Hawerchuk and Sidney Crosby.
NHL points leaders
(Rank in goals scored)
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (1)
2. Calgary Flames (4)
3. San Jose Sharks (3)
4. Boston Bruins (13)
T-5. Toronto Maple Leafs (2)
T-5. Washington Capitals (6)
— Source: NHL.com