Scoring's up, but the goals are cheap

AL STRACHAN

, Last Updated: 5:48 AM ET

If it weren't for power plays, we'd be watching soccer on ice.

Take out the goals that are scored in an unbalanced-manpower situation these days and you're usually left with something along the lines of a 1-1 game.

Last night, the Maple Leafs and Atlanta Thrashers were right on target.

The recorded score for the evening's festivities was 4-2, for the boys in blue. The score with the sides at even strength was 1-1.

Those with foresight -- no one who works at 1251 Avenue of the Americas in New York need apply -- have seen it coming for years. After all, how bright do you have to be to to figure it out?

On a purely physical level, players are getting bigger and faster. On a skill level, they're getting better and better.

And since it's always easier to destroy than create, it stands to reason that it's getting harder and harder to create a scoring play in a rink that has not changed in size in a hundred years.

The purists would scream if the number of players on the ice were reduced. So the league devised a neat little end-around -- put more players in the penalty box.

To a degree, it's working. Scoring is up, but only because power-play scoring is up. On many nights, not much happens the rest of the time.

As a result, those who don't agree with some aspects of the new approach to officiating are whistling in the wind. The last thing the league is going to do is reduce the number of penalties. Scoring is low enough as it is.

Last night, Ilya Kovalchuk opened the scoring while the Thrashers were enjoying a two-man advantage. About a minute later, the Leafs tied the score on the first of Darcy Tucker's pair -- while enjoying a two-man advantage.

Then, 45 seconds later, Tomas Kaberle put the Leafs in front. You guessed it. With a two-man advantage.

When Tucker gave the Leafs a 3-1 lead 41 seconds later, there was only one Thrasher in the box.

For the rest of the night, there was little excitement and fewer scoring chances. Curiously enough, there weren't many power plays either.

Not until the dying minutes, when the tired Thrashers made a bad giveaway and gave Jeff O'Neill a breakaway was there any more scoring.

Parity in the National Hockey League is such that if both sides are even strength, it's difficult for either one to create an advantage.

DELAYED

Critics of the crackdown on restraint usually say that too many of the physical battles have been taken out of the game. But the one call that upsets them the most has nothing to do with contact.

It's the delay-of-game penalty that is called when a player puts the puck into the stands from his own defensive zone.

More often than not, that situation arises with a team already short-handed and as a result, it should result in a goal. Both the Leafs and the Thrashers scored their opening goal last night under just such a circumstance.

In fact, there were three of those delay-of-game calls and every one created a 5-on-3.

Many general managers accept the need to punish a player who deliberately eases the pressure while killing a penalty, but they say that assessing a subsequent penalty is too harsh.

The former general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, Bob Clarke, suggested that instead of a penalty, the defending team should be put in a precarious position.

Instead of using one of the standard spots for the subsequent faceoff, Clarke said, the puck should be dropped between the hashmarks, in the centre of the rink, directly in front of the net.

But the consideration that Clarke and others miss is that the league executives think cheap goals are fine. All they want is scoring to be up. They don't really care how it gets that way.


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