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Can you actually see the increase in goal scoring this year?

Are the games a wild and woolly affair where the goals never stop? Or is that a backwards construction from people who have seen the league averages?

Los Angeles Kings v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

There’s an article out now about how just WILD all the games are this year. Scoring is way up, it’s massive, and super sonic, and well, I checked. What exactly is going on with goals, and can you really see that just watching? Or have there just been some anomalous remarkable games like that Kings - Seattle festival of goals and bad play or the Vancouver - Montréal re-enactment?

I compared this season just to last year, so this is hardly rigorous, but who remembers beyond last year? To begin, I looked at five-on-five unadjusted scoring. (I used Evolving Hockey for this).

Five-on-Five

  • 2021-2022: 2.09 Goals per Game
  • 2022 -2023: 2.01 Goals per Game

I wanted to know how that compared to the EH Expected Goals model, so I included that.

Five-on-Five Expected Goals

  • 2021-2022: 2.03 xG per Game
  • 2022-2023: 2.09 xG per Game

So, last year scoring was over xG, and so far this year it’s under, and it seems like scoring is actually down. There’s just one problem, though, there’s over a full minute less five-on-five per game right now over last year. Restating those four things in per 60 minutes, this is the real picture:

Five-on-Five Goals and xG per 60 Minutes

  • 2021-2022: 2.57 G/60 & 2.50 xG/60
  • 2022-2023: 2.54 G/60 & 2.64 xG/60

So scoring is down a very small amount at five-on-five, and is below xG. No one at all can see that difference.

But five-on-five isn’t even the part of the game that is watched most intently, the power play is. Power play time is up almost one minute per game, so that should make PP goals per game higher this year on its own:

Power Play

  • 2021-2022: 0.6 Goals per Game
  • 2022 -2023: 0.75 Goals per Game

And skipping straight to goals and expected per 60 minutes to compare years:

Power Play Goals and xG per 60 Minutes

  • 2021-2022: 7.43 G/60 & 7.39 xG/60
  • 2022-2023: 8.34 G/60 & 8.27 xG/60

Now that’s an increase in scoring for real. The total Goals per Game of the parts of games measured by what I looked at are 2.68 last year and 2.76 this year. And no, even though the power play really is higher scoring so far this year, you can’t really see that league wide. So either league averages are driving a retconned narrative of excitement, thrills and chills or a couple of games are being given status as more exemplary than they really are.

Five-on-five plus the power play is not the whole game of course. There are bits of even-strength play not covered in five-on-five, and this information isn’t including goalie pulled time unless it’s also a power play.

A very quick look at team level power play goal scoring shows that only seven teams are scoring less than last year on the power play (Ducks, Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, Panthers, Predators, Blues, Jets). There are also some teams that might surprise you who are leading the increase year-over-year: Coyotes, Sabres, Red Wings, Senators, Kraken. Of course the Bruins, the Lightning and the Avs are also up quite a lot. The Leafs are up a very small amount that amounts to a static performance in goals scored.

So maybe games are more exciting because the bad teams aren’t so bad anymore, and some of them have really hot power plays to make even a loss less boring. There’s no guarantee that the current power play results are going to last, however. Nor that the extra time on the power play will persist all season — although usually the average now of power play opportunities is very close to the seasonal.

Yes, the scoring via official league average is the highest it’s been since 1994 at 3.21, and no, you can’t really see the .07 increase over last year’s 3.14, but if you’ve been paying attention at all, you should have noticed the game changing over the last five years in ways that inevitably led to what we have now.

Now if someone wants to really dig hard into the power play techniques, personnel, shot choices, etc., we might have some idea if it’s skaters or goalies making the puck land in the net more this year.