Thursday, April 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

NHL debate grows on boosting scoring

TAMPA — You'd think Steven Stamkos, one of the best goal scorers in the world, would love the idea of the league expanding the size of the nets.

Not so fast, the Lightning captain says.

"I'm an old-school guy when it comes to that," Stamkos said. "I don't think you should change the things that have always been part of the game. If you do, you're going to have to put an asterisk next to whatever happens after that. I wouldn't touch the nets."

Scoring is down to historic levels. The average total goals scored per game was 5.3 entering Saturday. The league is on pace to have the fewest goals scored since 2003-04. The Lightning is a big part of that. It was held to one goal or fewer in eight of its first 18 games and was shut out three times. To spark more scoring, a topic at the recent GM meetings was increasing the net's size, currently 6 feet wide and 4 feet tall, or shrinking the size of goalies' equipment.

You'd be surprised at the cross-section of opinions on scoring, even among the Lightning.

"I think it's worthy of discussion," said GM Steve Yzerman.

The average height of a goalie is near 6 feet, 21/2 inches, with only five listed under 6 feet, the Elias Sports Bureau says. That's 4 inches taller than the average 30 years ago.

"Look at the clips of goals that went in (in the 1980s)," Stamkos said. "There's no chance now."

The Lightning has two huge goalies in 6-foot-7 Ben Bishop and 6-3 Andrei Vasilevskiy. "I would have no problem making the nets a little bigger," Bishop said. He disagrees with complaints about goalie equipment. Bigger goalies require bigger equipment. Bishop said that is on par with the improvements in players' sticks.

No matter what the league does, there still likely will be scoring struggles. The game has shifted to a more defensive-minded philosophy, a far cry from the run-and-gun days of the '80s. Lightning coach Jon Cooper's mandate the first day of training camp the past two seasons was to decrease goals allowed. There's also more emphasis on shot-blocking around the league, Cooper said. "If you don't, you're not on the team," he said. That's one reason it's so hard to come from behind.

"The first word you're going to hear (in the locker room) is, 'Play (defense) first. … Defense wins championships,' " Stamkos said. "Look at the trend of the last couple years of teams that have won Stanley Cups. Their goals-against average has been top three in the league. … Fifteen, 20 years ago, it was who scores the most goals wins the game."

Yzerman played in that era and says his statistics reflect that; he had 692 career goals. "It's totally different era," Yzerman said. "They're not as wide open anymore. I don't think it's a bad thing. It's just different."

Is the lack of scoring really hurting the product? The Lightning's 1-0 overtime loss in Chicago and 3-1 loss to Detroit this season were still fast-paced and highly entertaining. "Our games, even though they've been 2-1, 1-0, there's been some very good hockey … played," Yzerman said.

Isn't that the goal?

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