The NHL’s 3-on-3 All-Star Game Is A Scorer’s Delight

The NHL’s annual All-Star weekend is upon us, and that means fast skaters, blistering shots, mascot hijinks and even a new trick-shot competition. For the fifth-straight year, it also means a heavy focus on the 3-on-3 format, including a women’s All-Star Game on Friday night and the four-team men’s tournament on Saturday. The NHL seldom spent any time playing at 3-on-3 before 2015-16, when the league changed its overtime rules to play the tie-breaking period with three skaters per side. But ever since, 3-on-3 hockey has become a somewhat regular fact of NHL life:

The increasing popularity of 3-on-3 makes a lot of sense. With fewer skaters on the ice to clog up the same amount of territory, offensive players have a lot more time to think and room to move — and consequently, scoring goes through the roof. According to data from the statistics site Corsica Hockey, 5.97 goals have been scored per 60 minutes of 3-on-3 hockey in the NHL this season, a whopping 140 percent increase over the scoring rate (2.49 goals per 60 minutes) of regular 5-on-5 play. It’s been bad for goalies, who not only face 6.6 more shots per 60 minutes but also find themselves allowing around twice as many goals per shot at 3-on-3 (16.1 percent) than at 5-on-5 (8.2 percent). But it’s good news for both the league, which wants more games decided before the shootout,4 and for those players skilled enough to best exploit the extra space on the ice.

That’s what makes 3-on-3 an especially ideal format for an All-Star Game, which is designed to assemble the best — or at least the most offensively productive — players in the sport. And indeed, the most prolific 3-on-3 scorer of the past three seasons, Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, will be representing the Pacific Division this weekend. But the best offensive threats in “normal” hockey aren’t always the top 3-on-3 players. For every current All-Star with at least 3,000 minutes at 5-on-5 and 25 minutes at 3-on-3 since the 2017-18 season, I mapped out their Goals Created (GC) per 60 minutes in each situation, looking for the players whose production increased (or decreased) the most with three skaters on each side.

On the high side, Draisaitl has been one of the biggest gainers at 3-on-3, elevating his Goals Created per 60 minutes by 2.91 at 3-on-3. That change ranked fifth among All-Stars, behind St. Louis’s David Perron (+3.89), Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele (+3.80), Dallas’s Tyler Seguin (+3.35) and Calgary superpest Matthew Tkachuk (+3.16), just ahead of Columbus defenseman Seth Jones (+2.82). Most of those guys are at least solid offensive producers overall — Draisaitl has actually been historic this season — but Jones is a great outlier toward the left side of the chart. More of an all-around blueliner than a pure offensive defenseman, Jones doesn’t score very many points at 5-on-5. At 3-on-3, however, he has 4 goals and 4 assists in 62.4 minutes of play, an especially huge scoring rate coming from the back line. (No other All-Star defenseman has created more than 2 goals per 60 at 3-on-3 over the past three years.)

Meanwhile, there are some stars who do surprisingly little damage at 3-on-3, despite the extra chance for creativity. Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak currently leads the NHL in goals with 37 markers in just 51 games so far this season, one of the best goals-per-game rates in recent history. By any measure, Pastrnak is an elite offensive talent, but he has produced only 2 points (and zero goals) in 50.3 minutes of 3-on-3 action over the past three seasons — good for a Goals Created rate 0.40 per 60 minutes lower than during 5-on-5 play. The only All-Star whose production dropped off more at 3-on-3 was Minnesota’s Eric Staal (-0.84), who didn’t score a single point at 3-on-3 in 33.5 minutes. Pastrnak, Staal and Chris Kreider of the Rangers (-0.26) were the only three All-Stars whose stats somehow got worse at 3-on-3 than at 5-on-5. That’s not supposed to happen to players with All-Star skills, although it’s also a testament to the fact that anything can happen in small samples and weird man-strength situations.

And then there are the goalies, who were already tasked with an impossible job under pre-2016 All-Star conditions, when per-game scoring increased by 236 percent compared with the regular season. Then things got even worse between the pipes when the 3-on-3 format was adopted. So no All-Star netminder has had a better save percentage at 3-on-3 than at 5-on-5 — though some dropped off less than others.

Which All-Star goalies hold up the best at 3-on-3?

Among 2020 NHL All-Star goaltenders, smallest drop-off in save percentage from 5-on-5 to 3-on-3 since the 2017-18 season

5-on-5 3-on-3
Goalie Team Minutes SV% Minutes SV% SV% Diff.
Tristan Jarry Metropolitan 2380.9 0.921 30.0 0.882 -0.039
Connor Hellebuyck Central 7943.8 0.925 89.3 0.885 -0.040
Frederik Andersen Atlantic 7877.4 0.925 92.4 0.883 -0.041
Jacob Markstrom Pacific 7086.5 0.922 118.9 0.880 -0.042
Andrei Vasilevskiy Atlantic 7151.5 0.930 86.4 0.872 -0.057
David Rittich Pacific 4313.8 0.923 72.8 0.854 -0.069
Jordan Binnington Central 3178.3 0.930 40.5 0.850 -0.080
Braden Holtby Metropolitan 6508.1 0.917 76.2 0.778 -0.139

Excludes injured goaltenders who were replaced before final All-Star rosters were set.

Source: Corsica Hockey

Tristan Jarry, who is having a breakout season for the Pittsburgh Penguins, checks in at No. 1, though he has faced a paltry 17 shots at 3-on-3. (For a little context, it generally takes 3,000 shots for a goalie’s long-term performance to stabilize, so we’re dealing with absolutely microscopic samples here.) As alternative options atop the leaderboard, Connor Hellebuyck of the Jets and Toronto’s Frederik Andersen have stared down more attempts at 3-on-3 and stopped almost as many of them relative to their 5-on-5 numbers. But Washington’s Braden Holtby is a huge outlier in the opposite direction. Usually one of the top netminders in the game (although he has struggled this season), Holtby has let in a wretched 22.2 percent of opposing shots during 3-on-3 play, easily making him the worst All-Star goalie in those situations.

The Central Division team, led by Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon and backstopped by Hellebuyck, probably has the best on-paper combination of offensive talent, goaltending and collective 3-on-3 track record. But whoever wins the All-Star tournament, fans are in store for a lot of fast-paced, high-scoring action — thanks in large part to the fundamental nature of the 3-on-3 format. (Sorry, goalies.)

Sure, The NFL Playoffs Seem Chaotic … But They’re Actually Pretty Predictable

The Tennessee Titans’ run from the sixth seed to the AFC championship game is a Cinderella tale amid an NFL postseason full of great stories. Even after the Minnesota Vikings upset the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome, and the Houston Texans racked up (and then blew) a 24-0 lead over the Kansas City Chiefs, the Titans beating the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens on the road on consecutive weeks still stands out.

This isn’t supposed to be unusual in the league of parity, where the sixth-seed 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers kicked off an era of wild-card teams winning it all. The 2007 New York Giants, a five-seed, met the 18-0 New England Patriots in the Super Bowl and beat them. The 2010 Green Bay Packers won it all as a sixth seed, too. In 2011, the Giants won another Super Bowl ring after sneaking into the playoffs at 9-7 as the champion of a weak NFC East.

It’s no wonder fans and analysts frequently complain about the NFL’s playoff format, insisting that it’s too easy for weak teams to get in and too hard for the regular season’s best teams to capitalize on their seasonlong performance. Amid reports that the league is looking to add a playoff game on each side of the bracket and some in the players union are trying to change the seeding, it seems like a solution to this problem is coming.

The only problem? There’s no problem.

In fact, the NFL playoffs are a chalk factory. Since at least 2010, no other major U.S. professional sport has put its best teams in the semifinals more frequently than the NFL.1 The NFL and NBA averaged three top-two seeds in the conference finals per season, while MLB averaged two, and the NHL averaged 1.3.2

In eight of the past 10 NFL seasons, at least three of each year’s four conference finalists have had a first-round bye. In fact, no season has had fewer than two top-two seeds in the final four. Overall, 30 of the 40 title-game participants have been either No. 1 or No. 2 seeds. Since the 2013 season, every Super Bowl winner has been a top-two seed — and all but one have been their conference’s No. 1.

The NBA is just as good at putting its best teams in position to win a ring; over the same period, it has averaged 3 top-two seeds in its final fours. Of course, every round of the NBA playoffs is a best-of series instead of a single-elimination game — and, as Michael Mauboussin found, NBA basketball results are driven more by skill than any other major U.S. sport. Luck plays a much bigger role in baseball and hockey, so it’s no wonder that MLB and the NHL don’t put top seeds in the semifinals nearly as often.

But wait — we know NFL results are significantly luck-driven, too, and single-elimination games give underdogs a better chance to win than a multiple-trial series. How does the NFL put its regular-season champs in position to win conference and league titles as frequently as the NBA?

Credit the NFL playoff structure. When the season’s winningest teams have to win just one home game to make the conference finals, they’re going to do so more often than not. Of course, when luck is a significant factor in wins and losses, the winningest teams aren’t necessarily the best ones. FiveThirtyEight’s Elo rankings still regard the Ravens and Saints as the strongest and third-strongest teams. The Ravens, Saints and Patriots also finished first, third and fourth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA.

But the reason we have playoffs is to put the winners against the winners and see who wins — and the NFL’s format does that more effectively than anyone gives it credit for.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

CORRECTION (Jan. 16, 2020, 5:28 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the league that averaged two top-two seeds in its conference finals from 2010 through 2019. It was MLB, not the NBA.

NHL Defensemen Aren’t Supposed To Score Like John Carlson

It is not typical for an NHL defenseman — or any athlete, for that matter — to drastically improve at the age of 30. While defensemen tend to peak later and play at a level that more closely resembles their prime deeper into their 30s than other NHL skaters, the fourth decade of a hockey player’s life usually corresponds with the end of their playing days.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson is proving that this season: The D.C. blueliner, who turns 30 on Jan. 10, is having one of the best offensive seasons for a defenseman in NHL history, particularly after adjusting for leaguewide scoring levels. He’s also having one of the most valuable D-man campaigns in NHL history if we account for the rest of his stats. Basically, by any metric, Carlson is making history. And even more amazingly, he’s doing so as a relatively old guy.

With 52 points (13 goals, 39 assists), Carlson currently leads the Washington Capitals in scoring — 12 points clear of left wing Alex Ovechkin, himself one of history’s greatest scorers. Carlson’s 1.21 points per game is tracking to be the first season above the 1.2 threshold by a defenseman in 25 years. At this pace, he would notch 99 points by season’s end, which would be the most by a D-man since Brian Leetch had 102 points in the 1991-92 season.

And although scoring is up this season, it’s still a far cry from what it was in the early 1990s. So according to Hockey-Reference.com’s Adjusted Points stat, which translates every player’s totals to a hypothetical league where both teams combine for exactly six goals per game, Carlson is currently enjoying the ninth-best defenseman scoring season since 1943 (the first year of the NHL’s Original Six era). The only blueliners with more adjusted points in a season? Just a couple of guys you may have heard of before: Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey.

Carlson is in ridiculously elite company

Most adjusted points in a single season by an NHL defenseman, 1943-2020

Adjusted Stats
Rk Player Season Team Goals Assists Points
1 Bobby Orr 1971 BOS 34 95 129
2 Bobby Orr 1970 BOS 33 91 124
3 Bobby Orr 1972 BOS 36 81 117
4 Bobby Orr 1974 BOS 30 87 117
5 Bobby Orr 1975 BOS 39 78 117
6 Paul Coffey 1986 EDM 37 71 108
7 Paul Coffey 1995 DET 24 76 100
8 Paul Coffey 1984 EDM 31 69 100
9 John Carlson 2020 WSH 25 74 99
10 Paul Coffey 1985 EDM 29 67 96

Adjusted stats are scaled to a league environment with six total goals per game and prorated to 82 team games.

Through Jan. 5, 2020.

Source: Hockey-Reference.com

Carlson’s offensive numbers jump off the page, and he’s certainly known more for his puck-moving skills than his defensive grit. But he has also registered a plus-16 rating, which ranks 10th among defensemen this season, and the team is allowing only slightly more 5-on-5 goals per minute with him on the ice than without, despite his many forays deep into the offensive zone. Nobody would claim that Carlson is a shutdown defender, but his all-around performance has been worth 28.2 adjusted goals above replacement (GAR),1 which estimates the total net goals added or saved by each skater and goalie based on his box-score stats and prorates to an 82-game schedule. That leads all defensemen, and it ranks second to the Bruins’ David Pastrnak among all players, regardless of position.

Carlson’s current form is impressive by any definition, but it’s ludicrous when compared with the greatest-ever seasons posted by old-guy defensemen, which we’re defining as defensemen who were at least 30 years old as of Feb. 1 during a given regular season.2 Indeed, Carlson is having the best old-guy defenseman season in NHL history in terms of GAR — and doing so by some margin.

Carlson is having the best old-guy defenseman season ever

Most adjusted GAR (goals above replacement) for defensemen age 30 or older, 1943-2020, along with previous and subsequent career highs for GAR in a season

Best GAR Seasons
Rk Player Season Team Age Adj. GAR Previous Subsequent
1 John Carlson 2020 WSH 30 28.2 17.5 ???
2 Paul Coffey 1995 DET 33 27.1 29.7 19.4
3 Brent Burns 2017 SJS 31 27.0 22.9 20.8
4 Mark Howe 1986 PHI 30 24.3 17.6 17.1
5 Nicklas Lidstrom 2008 DET 37 24.2 22.2 18.5
6 Al MacInnis 1999 STL 35 23.3 25.2 21.1
7 Raymond Bourque 1991 BOS 30 23.2 25.0 22.7
8 Brent Burns 2016 SJS 30 22.9 15.9 27.0
9 Raymond Bourque 1994 BOS 33 22.7 25.0 22.1
10 Al MacInnis 1994 CGY 30 22.1 25.2 23.3

Adjusted GAR is prorated to 82 team games.

Through Jan. 5, 2020.

Source: Hockey-Reference.com

Now, it’s not as though Carlson was a total nobody before producing this monster season. From the beginning of his first full NHL season in 2010-11 through last season, Carlson ranked eighth in total points scored and was 15th in points scored per game among defensemen who have played at least 200 games; he’s finished among the top five Norris Trophy vote-getters in each of the past two seasons (and is the front-runner for the award this season); and he was a crucial piece of the 2017-18 Capitals team that finally ended D.C.’s 43-year wait for a Stanley Cup. But Carlson was never the clear-cut best defenseman in the NHL — much less in the same conversation as Orr or Coffey — until this season.

Among the six other players to post top-10 all-time great old-guy seasons above, none experienced an uptick in GAR greater than seven goals from their previous career high, and most experienced a regression in the seasons after their post-30-year-old peak. It’s unclear if or by how much Carlson will regress in 2020-21 — more on that later — but what is clear is that his GAR has skyrocketed, up 11.5 points from a season ago, which itself was a career high. It’s by far the largest increase among the elite old-guy group.

When old-guy defensemen bank points at historic rates, they generally do so by exploiting power play situations. When Coffey dominated the league at age 33, he scored 53 percent of his points on the power play. When Raymond Bourque was 33, he scored 57 percent of his points on the power play. And when Al MacInnis had the second-best season of his career in terms of point shares at 35, he scored an astonishing 60 percent of his points on the power play.

Carlson, on the other hand, has scored just 31 percent of his points on the power play this season. Power play opportunities are at a near-historic low, which helps account for Carlson’s dearth of power play points relative to other all-time great old-guy defensemen. Carlson is already en route to a mind-boggling old-guy season — but it could have been even more impressive if he had played in the same era as Coffey, Bourque and MacInnis. (We’re guessing a shooter like Carlson would have loved to face the goaltenders of the 1980s and early ’90s.)

It’s worth keeping in mind that Carlson is firing the puck in with far greater accuracy this season than he has in the past: He’s scoring on 10.5 percent of his shots, 3.5 percentage points higher than his next-best season. Because shooting percentage tends to regress to the mean, it’s not a question of if Carlson’s goal scoring production will drop off, but rather when it will drop off.

That said, it’s reasonable to assume that Carlson’s rate of assists per game will hold relatively steady because Washington has built a team that consistently shoots the lights out. The Capitals currently rank second in the NHL in shooting percentage, scoring with 11.1 percent of their shots — and they haven’t ranked lower than fourth since the 2013-14 season. Among players with at least 800 minutes across all situations, only 11 players have been on the ice for a higher team shooting percentage than Carlson. He might not continue burying his own shots at such a blistering pace, but there’s ample reason to believe his teammates will continue burying theirs, which means more helpers and more points.

It’s possible that Carlson is peaking and will never again be as good as he has been this season. But it’s also possible that he’s on the cusp of a rare old-guy renaissance. After all, there’s evidence in the careers of other great old-guy defensemen to suggest that Carlson could keep this up well into his 30s. Coffey had his second-best season in terms of point shares at age 33, MacInnis won his first and only Norris Trophy at age 35, and Nicklas Lidstrom won each of his seven Norris Trophies after he turned 30.

Carlson is unlikely to skate into Coffey or Lidstrom territory (much less Orr), but MacInnis territory could be within reach. A lone Norris Trophy is still a Norris Trophy, after all. And if Carlson keeps playing the way he has this season, on an apparent quest for all-time old-guy defenseman supremacy, a Norris Trophy might not be the only hardware he collects.

The Lightning’s Historic Dominance Won’t Matter Without A Cup

The Stanley Cup playoffs begin today, with the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lighting entering as heavy betting favorites. And for good reason: Their regular season resume is impeccable. They earned 128 points by winning 62 games, placing them in a tie with the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most regular-season wins in league history.

En route to all those wins, the Bolts led the NHL in goals scored, powerplay goals scored, shooting percentage and penalty kill percentage1 and finished third in save percentage. Nikita Kucherov became the first player in more than a decade to register 120 or more points, and Steven Stamkos had the most productive season of his already immensely productive career.

Tampa is a balanced juggernaut, and every other team should be very afraid of it.

With all that said, it must be noted that regular-season dominance hardly guarantees postseason glory in the NHL. Of the 13 teams that have won the Presidents’ Trophy since the lockout of 2004-05, just two have gone on to lift the Stanley Cup. And of the 10 regular-season winners to earn 120 or more regular-season points in league history, just four have gone on to win professional hockey’s ultimate prize.2

Still, NHL favorites3 haven’t had it all that bad since the lockout, especially when compared with the other three major North American men’s leagues. Only NBA favorites have had better championship odds going into the playoffs over the past 13 years.

Hockey favorites don’t have it too bad

For each of the four major North American men’s leagues, playoff field size and average pre-playoff title probability* for favorites, 2006-2018

League Playoff Teams per Year Favorite’s Average Championship Probability
National Basketball Association 16 36.1%
National Hockey League 16 23.5
Major League Baseball 8/10 21.4
National Football League 12 18.7

* Based on a logit regression between per-game scoring differential and championships won for each league.

Source: Sports-Reference.com

While it might not be as inevitable as, say, the Golden State Warriors winning the NBA title in 2018 (or 2017 or 2015), Tampa’s regular-season dominance suggests that it’s poised to continue this trend. The Bolts scored 103 more goals than they conceded during the regular season; the next best mark was set by the Calgary Flames, who posted a +62 goal differential. The gulf between best and second-best is immense, and it underscores Tampa’s historic regular-season greatness. And indeed, Tampa may be the NHL’s best team since the lockout.

Hockey-Reference.com’s Simple Rating System (SRS), which estimates the strength of every team in the NHL,4 reiterates just how special this Bolts group is. From 2005-06 to 2017-18, just three teams finished the regular season with an SRS better than 1, and no team eclipsed 1.2. The most recent team to do so — the 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks — won the Stanley Cup. Tampa finished the 2018-19 regular season with an SRS of 1.21. All signs are pointing to late-spring celebrations on the Gulf Coast.

Tampa’s only real concern at the moment is the health of Victor Hedman, the reigning Norris Trophy winner for the top defenseman. The Swede missed Tampa’s final three games with an “upper-body injury.” Hedman has a history of concussions, and “upper-body injury” is often NHL front-office code for concussion. The slick-skating defenseman is Tampa’s fourth-highest scorer, its power-play quarterback and the leader of a rearguard partially responsible for that gaudy goal differential. The Bolts can probably survive a first-round tilt against a slightly better-than-average Blue Jackets team without Hedman, but things might not be as easy against subsequent teams.

If there’s a cautionary tale for this iteration of the Bolts, it’s that Red Wings team from 1995-96: Detroit earned the second-most regular-season points in NHL history and boasted two of the league’s best offensive players (Sergei Fedorov and Steve Yzerman) and the league’s reigning Norris Trophy winner (Paul Coffey) and yet failed to advance beyond the Western Conference finals. In the NHL, history is written between April and June, not October and April. Tampa is on top of the hockey world at the moment. But that world could change significantly in a matter of weeks.

Goodbye, Dead Puck Era

Players in the NHL are scoring at a prodigious pace. Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov is on pace to score 125 points, which would be tied for the highest point tally of the new millennium. If they keep up their current clip, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid would score 122 points, Chicago’s Patrick Kane 119 points and Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen 117 points. All of these point totals would smash each player’s previous career high. This makes sense given the climate of the NHL this season — it’s the highest-scoring season since the one that took place immediately after the lockout of 2004-05. There are currently 40 players scoring at least a point per game.1 If the season ended today, it would be the highest number since 1995-96, when 42 finished the season with a point per game or better. This is excellent news for a league that’s constantly tinkering with its rulebook to increase scoring.

For the first time in more than a decade, the average goals scored per NHL game has surpassed 6. But unlike previous spikes in scoring, there weren’t any sweeping changes made to the rulebook before the season,2 so what exactly is going on?

An obvious stat to look at is the average number of power-play opportunities teams are getting each game. More man advantages, it would seem, might lead to more quality scoring opportunities. But power-play opportunities per game have actually decreased steadily since the lockout of 2004-05 and are static when compared with last season, when the average goals scored per game was below 6.

Shooters do appear to be taking better shots in five-on-five scenarios. The average for the league in expected goals per 60 minutes per team3 is 2.38, according to data from Corsica Hockey — up from 2.19 in 2015-16. And shooters are actually performing better than the expected goals model suggests they should be: The league average goals per 60 minutes per team is 2.49. A 10th of a goal may not seem like a lot, but it translates to about 254 more goals scored per season. Shots against per game have remained fairly stable since the lockout of 2004-05, which makes it somewhat difficult to explain the sudden glut.

It could be that the ongoing analytics boom in hockey has affected a change in the old “get the puck to the net however possible” evangelism that once was pre-eminent. It’s true that the puck won’t go into the net unless it’s guided toward the net, but not all shots are created equal: An unimpeded shot from between the dots has a much better chance of hitting the twine than a shot taken from the blue line and directed toward a bunch of traffic in front of the net, for example. If expected goals are any indication, players are taking smarter shots — not more shots — than they did in the past, and that’s leading to more goals.

We might expect that slumping goaltending could also provide part of the answer. The average save percentage (.908) across the NHL is the lowest it’s been in a decade. But if we isolate goaltenders who were roughly in their prime (between the ages 25 and 31) in both 2015-16 and 2018-19 — presumably a group whose inherent skills haven’t changed very much even as the NHL’s goals-per-game average has — their average save percentage has dipped by an astounding 12 points over that span.

By comparison, the overall league average in save percentage is down by only 7 points, which indicates that goaltenders who were not in the goalie population in 2015-16 are having a better time adjusting to the league than goalies who were already around — even ones still in their primes. It’s fair to conclude, then, that goaltending has gotten demonstrably more difficult in a short period of time, and veteran goalies appear to have had a hard time adapting to shooters who have figured out how to take smarter and more dangerous shots.

This is all in sharp contrast to the amount of scoring that occurred in the past decade-plus. In the past, changes to the NHL rulebook have had a bubble effect: Scoring increases immediately but regresses within a season or two. That was certainly the case in 2005-06, which was defined by a spate of rule changes and a cadre of whistle-happy referees. That season, the size of goaltender equipment was reduced; the two-line offsides rule was abolished; the neutral zone was reduced by 4 feet, expanding the space each team had to mount an offensive zone attack; and goaltenders were no longer allowed to play the puck anywhere they wanted behind the goal line, instead restricted to a trapezoid behind their own net. Power-play opportunities skyrocketed to 5.85 per team per game, up by 1.61 from 2003-04.

This all meant that scoring jumped from 5.14 goals per game in 2003-04 to 6.16 goals per game in 2005-06. The boost was short-lived, however. Scoring dipped beneath 6 goals per game the following season, and as the decade post-lockout progressed, scoring continued to suffer. Power-play opportunities declined drastically, goaltenders got better, and the average goals scored per game stayed below 6 for a dozen seasons. Until this season.

Whether the scoring uptick can be attributed to a culmination of rule changes, smarter shot selection, worse goaltending or evolved tactics — or some combination of all of that — one thing is certain: The NHL is a scorer’s league again, and the 2018-19 iteration is the most entertaining in nearly three decades.