More Offense, Greater Flow, Faster Finishes
Friday, November 1, 2002
By David W. Unkle
NEW YORK - Through the opening month of the 2002-2003 regular season, National Hockey League games have featured more offense, greater flow and faster finishes as the result of strict enforcement against interference/obstruction infractions and the implementation of "hurry-up" line change procedures. Through Oct. 31, NHL Clubs had played 150 of the scheduled 1,230 games, and the data gathered from those contests reflect a jump in scoring to 5.6 goals per game through 150 games this season compared to 5.4 per game through as many games last season.
Additionally, at a time when pro sports Leagues have come under increasing criticism for games that start later and last longer, "hurry-up" line change procedures have trimmed regulation-game times 16 minutes to an average of two hours, 19 minutes.
"I think the League is seeing a big improvement in the way the game is being played," said Pittsburgh Penguins star Mario Lemieux, the League's leading scorer and Player of the Month with seven goals, 16 assists and 23 points in 10 games.
The developments have come without a "parade to the penalty box." Referees this season have assessed an average of 14.2 penalties per game (minors and majors), compared to 13.2 through the same number of games last season. The average number of penalty minutes in a game essentially is flat -- 32.2 minutes this season, 30.9 through the same number of games last season.
Of the total 2,133 penalties whistled by NHL referees, just over half -- 1,080 -- have been for obstruction, restraining or other interference fouls. Through the same number of games last season, 1,983 total penalties had been called and 790 (39.8%) had been for such infractions.
A brief overview of the impact these changes have had through the first 150 games this season, compared to a similar span last season:
* The number of shutouts dropped over 50%, from 21 to 10.
Other October Highlights:
* Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin (7-0-2, 2.06 GAA) backstopped his club to its best start in franchise history and a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference (7-1-2-0). Khabibulin led all goaltenders in victories and posted the 29th shutout of his career Oct. 30 against the New York Rangers.
* Minnesota Wild left wing Marian Gaborik (6-8--14 in 11 games) led the Wild in scoring, posted a pair of game-winning goals and became the first 20-year-old in a decade to record six points in a game (Oct. 26 at Phoenix).
* Minnesota Wild goaltender Manny Fernandez was undefeated in October (6-0-0, 1.48 goals-against average, .949 save percentage), backstopping the Wild to first place in the NHL's overall standings (8-1-2-0). Fernandez led all goaltenders in goals-against average and save percentage.
* Philadelphia Flyers left wing John LeClair notched seven goals in 10 games, helping the Flyers (7-1-2-0) to first place in the Atlantic Division and a share of top spot in the Eastern Conference.
* St. Louis Blues defenseman Al MacInnis (3-6--9, +7 in eight games), wearing the "C" in the absence of blueline partner Chris Pronger, helped the Blues to a 6-1-1-0 record and first place in the Central Division.
* Boston Bruins center Joe Thornton (3-8--11 in 10 games) helped the Bruins post an eight-game unbeaten streak (6-0-2-0) from to Oct. 14-30, lifting the club to first place in the Northeast Division.
* Carolina Hurricanes right wing Jeff O'Neill (4-9--13 in 11 games) posted a 10-game point streak Oct. 11-30, the longest of the month by any player.
* Detroit Red Wings center Sergei Fedorov (8-4--12 in 10 games) grabbed a share of the NHL goal-scoring lead, helping the Red Wings (6-3-1-0) cope with the absence of captain Steve Yzerman.
* Tampa Bay Lightning center Martin St. Louis (6-9 --15 in 10 games) led his club in scoring and tied for second in the League overall.
* Wings Alexei Kovalev (8-7--15) and Aleksey Morozov (7-7--14) flanked Mario Lemieux on the Penguins' top line, finishing the month second and sixth, respectively, on the NHL scoring list.
* Dallas Stars RW Bill Guerin made a successful start with his new club, posting 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 11 games as the Stars (6-2-2-1) finished the month atop the Pacific Division.
* The races for playoff position already have reached fever pitch. Only six points separate the 12 clubs occupying third through 14th place in the West, and only seven points separate the corresponding 12 clubs in the West.
Some key dates in November:
* The Hockey Hall of Fame Game (Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs) will be played at Air Canada Center Nov. 2.
* Rangers captain Mark Messier is on schedule to pass Larry Murphy (1,615) and take second place on the career games-played list Nov. 3 against St. Louis.
* Hockey Hall of Fame inductions Nov. 4 in Toronto will honor Bernie Federko, Clark Gillies and Rod Langway in the player category, Roger Neilson in the builder category and media honorees Kevin Dupont and Gilles Tremblay.
* Maple Leafs goaltender Ed Belfour returns to Dallas for the first time Nov. 8.
* Red Wings goaltender Curtis Joseph returns to Toronto for the first time Nov. 16.
* Rangers center Bobby Holik returns to New Jersey for the first time Nov. 21.
* The long-anticipated first installment in the 'Battle of Alberta' gets underway Nov. 21 (Edmonton at Calgary).
* The Rangers/Islanders rivalry resumes for the 2002-2003 season Nov. 23 at Madison Square Garden.
* Phoenix Coyotes LW Tony Amonte makes his first appearance against his former club when the Chicago Blackhawks visit America West Arena Nov. 28.
* Last season's Stanley Cup Finalists, the Detroit Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes, meet for the only time this season Nov. 29, in Raleigh.
* Tampa Bay Lightning LW Dave Andreychuk needs one power-play goal to tie Phil Esposito (249) for first place on the all-time list. Andreychuk also needs three goals for 600.
* Colorado's Patrick Roy needs 233 minutes (just under four games) to tie Terry Sawchuk (57,194) for most career minutes by a goaltender.
* Dallas Stars center Mike Modano, a native of Livonia, Mich., needs nine points for 1,000. Only four U.S.-born players have previously reached the milestone (Phil Housley, Joe Mullen, Jeremy Roenick and Pat LaFontaine).
* Four players could hit the 1,000-game milestone this month -- Don Sweeney (Boston), Rod Brind'Amour (Carolina), Jeremy Roenick (Philadelphia) and Fredrik Olausson (Anaheim).
* New Jersey Devils center Joe Nieuwendyk needs five goals for 500.
* The Boston Bruins need seven victories to become the second club in NHL history (joining the Montreal Canadiens) to reach 2,500 regular-season wins.
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