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A goal for the playoffs should be more goals

A few conversations have heated up again.

“Make the nets bigger.”

“Make the goalie equipment smaller.”

“Call more penalties.”

Put them together, and it’s clear people think scoring is down in the NHL. The numbers back them.

An analysis by The Buffalo News showed that scoring through the first two rounds of the playoffs was at its lowest level since 2004. Teams averaged 4.88 goals per game, down from 5.38 last year. The first round was down a full goal per game (4.88 from 5.88), while the second round was slightly up (4.77 from 4.54).

It’s a long way from 2010, when teams scored nearly six goals per game (5.96) through the opening two rounds. Since goals get fans out of their seats, a dip in scoring could be a concern for the NHL.

“No, it’s not,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email Friday. “There is no doubt in my mind that individual defensive responsibility becomes the absolute priority for virtually all coaches and players during the playoffs.”

Indeed, coaches care more about preventing goals and eliminating mistakes. Plus, the best defensive teams appeared in both rounds this year. Chicago, Montreal and the Rangers ranked Nos. 1-3 in goals against, while No. 5 Minnesota and No. 6 Washington also advanced to the conference semifinals.

It’s no coincidence those teams have the best goaltenders, with the Canadiens’ Carey Price and the Wild’s Devan Dubnyk up for the Vezina Trophy, an award previously won by New York’s Henrik Lundqvist.

“The goaltending has been just out of this world, and if you look at the names that are goaltending for each series they’re pretty big names,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters. “That’s why I think the goal scoring is down.”

Goaltending makes a huge difference. The two lowest-scoring series so far this year featured Lundqvist and the Rangers. The two goal-starved series last year involved Lundqvist and Boston’s Tuukka Rask. Jonathan Quick was a wall in 2013 and teamed with Lundqvist in 2012 for the three lowest-scoring series.

There’s no doubt, however, a problematic trend is developing.

From 2002 to 2004 – the three years before the season-long lockout – there were 11 series in the opening two rounds that featured four goals per game or fewer. The NHL fixed the problem during the lockout, and from 2006 to 2011 there were only three series that averaged four goals per game or fewer.

Since 2012, the number has jumped back up to 10.

Having the playoffs resemble pre-lockout hockey is not a good thing, no matter who’s in net. Whether it’s bigger cages, smaller equipment or strict rule enforcement, something needs to be discussed when the competition committee meets next month.

“The NHLPA will be adding goal scoring to the competition committee agenda for a discussion,” Jonathan Weatherdon, director of communication for the players’ association, said via email. “The goal scoring numbers from the regular season were down, and as you passed along so are the playoff scoring numbers. So, this matter warrants a discussion by the competition committee.”

Postseason problems

A look at year-by-year playoff goals per game in the first- and second-rounds and goals per game overall through two rounds:

Year Round 1 Round 2 Overall

2002 4.62 5.52 4.93

2003 4.85 5.00 4.90

2004 4.34 4.23 4.30

2005 No season

2006 5.89 5.35 5.72

2007 5.02 4.55 4.86

2008 5.44 5.85 5.56

2009 5.11 6.04 5.47

2010 5.90 6.08 5.96

2011 5.69 5.43 5.61

2012 5.04 4.71 4.94

2013 5.32 4.75 5.13

2014 5.88 4.54 5.38

2015 4.88 4.77 4.88

A jarring account

The players who are suing the NHL regarding concussions have increasingly brought their case to the public. The latest is Malcolm “Mal” Davis, a former Sabres forward and a legend in Rochester.

In an essay Thursday for Canada’s National Post, Davis wrote that he experiences numbness in his right arm, anxiety attacks, dizziness, headaches and mood swings. The 58-year-old fears the effects of dementia or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) when he gets older.

Davis, who played professionally from 1978 to 1992, says the problems are from untreated concussions.

“A few games into my first season with the Detroit Red Wings, I was checked hard and my head slammed into the glass,” he wrote. “‘Welcome to the NHL,’ I thought to myself. Yet I quickly realized something did not feel right, as I saw stars and heard a faint humming in my ears.

“I headed to the bench. Despite my concerns, a doctor never looked at me, and I was sent back in to play the rest of the game. I had no idea those few minutes on the bench would cost me a seat on the roster. Afterward, the coaches took me aside and said I ‘couldn’t take a hit.’ Instead of being sent to a doctor or the hospital for a serious head injury, I was simply sent down to the minors.

“We never saw a doctor for these injuries, and I rarely knew someone to be formally diagnosed with a concussion. I certainly wasn’t. During our playing days, the league would lay out the red carpet if a player broke his finger or hurt a muscle in his leg. The treatment for a head injury? Smelling salts and the advice to ‘keep your head up.’”

Davis played 96 games for the Sabres in the mid-1980s, recording 30 goals and 52 points. He was a star with the Amerks and is eighth on their career scoring list with 155 goals in five seasons. He had 55 goals and 103 points in 71 games in 1983-84.

“I joined the concussion litigation to hold the league accountable for its failure to protect me and my fellow retired players from head trauma,” he wrote. “The NHL should have ensured that we received medical attention instead of subbing us out for yet another expendable player. Doctors warned us that we might feel pain from our knees or ankles, but no one ever said we could lose our memory, or worse.

“Despite the league’s failures, this lawsuit is not about punishing them. Rather, the NHL needs to step up and provide security and care to the former players who built the league into what it is today.”

On the fly

• Detroit will honor the late founder of CapGeek.com by handing the champion of its Traverse City Prospect Tournament the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup. Wuest, who died of cancer in March, developed and maintained RedWingsCentral.com and covered the tournament.

• The drama never ends in the desert. City officials in Glendale, Ariz., are looking to void their contract with the Coyotes, according to TSN.ca. The city gives the team’s owners $15 million per year to manage the arena, but the report states that money is instead being used to pay down the team’s debt.

• The Sabres are expected to hold their development camp the week of July 6. With Jack Eichel likely joining Sam Reinhart and the other prospects, it could be a well-attended spectacle.

email: jvogl@buffnews.com

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