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Top NHL teams seek to outscore opponents every game
In any sport, defence wins games. However, the NHL has shifted from an all-defensive mindset into an all-out offensive display where fans have been enjoying the top teams go at it with incredible prowess in launching attacks.
In 2021, sports leagues like the NFL, NBA, and NHL have pivoted into a more offensive-rounded display as games got more interesting because of it. Unlike the first two sports, defence in hockey has evolved so far as to having very little of it due to the demand for higher offensive output.
However, the NHL has completely dismissed the possibility of ever taking the defence seriously as the best teams and players in the league are putting up the lowest defensive ratings in recent years.
Even the best forwards like Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby have dismissed the defensive assignments recently and focused so heavily on how they can efficiently score the puck towards the opposing team’s goal.
Scoring as many points as possible is the new norm
The top three Hart Trophy candidates for this season are Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin, Edmonton Oilers’ McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl. All three in the previous 2020 season were incredible on the defensive end, especially for McDavid who made a defensive stride during the shortened 2020-2021 season.
This season, the defensive-minded league which was the basis for successful game plans has become almost obsolete because scoring became the norm in handling games and winning them.
Does this mean that players have gotten significantly worse without the attention paid to the defence? Not exactly. It, however, put the NHL on notice for the most prolific offensive players to do what they do best, and have the best defenders do their best defensive schemes as well, albeit under a more obscure light.
If you look closely at the top offense of the NHL league, the Capitals, which ranked the first in offensive rating, lead in their own Metropolitan Division. On the other hand, the Oilers started off strongly which marks their very best start of the season since the turn of the millennium.
How is the main focus of offense helped teams?
Telling each team’s offensive lineup to hone their offensive skills allows for a fast-paced league where stars can really shine and thus market the NHL more positively. Everyone wants flashy plays and exciting tempos when watching any sport, and hockey is honestly just adapting to the times.
Not only is it good for the market, but teams are getting a lot of advantages when playing a higher-level offence. This proves to the best players that they are more than capable of providing great numbers and become successful with this new change to a more offensive-minded league.
Ovechkin, for instance, has posted a 2.2 on-ice goals on a 60 minute basis this season. This is probably the lowest the star has ever recorded in his goal percentage since 2017. At the same time, he is on pace to go even against the highest oiFG/60 minute (on-ice field goal for every 60 minutes) of his career which is 5.7. The second stat makes so much more sense considering the fact that the league has now pivoted to more offence than ever before.
His team, the Capitals, are also ranked at the top in defence, so it shouldn’t make sense for the Caps to be this good on the defensive side when their best player has experienced his worst defensive season since 2017. A focus on each role is vital to the team’s success, and the push to more offence is merely an outlier while the defence still maintains its quality.
The overall presence of a great offence simply overpowers the more centralised focus of the defensive end where most people and statistics miss. Because the offense is at its greatest, doesn’t mean the defence is left behind.
Best offensive teams in the NHL
Here are the most prolific scoring teams in the NHL so far:
• Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals are off to another outstanding start with their best player, Ovechkin, having one of the most incredible offensive seasons in his career and is easily one of the top players in the league.
With an offence this good, you would think that the defence is gone from all the overpowering firepower. However, the defence is still present, albeit to a much less degree than it ever was.
• Edmonton Oilers
After a great start to the season that put them on top of the offensive ratings, the Oilers have cooled down a bit after losing a couple of games which places them underneath the Flames which are also having a blasting season so far.
If Edmonton continues to put up these wild numbers, the Oilers will make some noise in the playoffs. It will give them a chance to win should their offense be organised and find its stride again in the coming weeks.
• Calgary Flames
Both the Capitals and the Flames have the same record currently, and it’s all thanks to the latter’s historical offence that teams simply couldn’t defend well. The Flames’ incredible duo of Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau leave opposing teams scattered defensively on the ice rink as these two have the offensive firepower to get the puck ablaze when scoring the goal.
If they keep this incredible display of offence, the Flames might be remembered as one of the best teams to ever play in the league.
Words: Vonn Consul