Defence, something that is spoken of all too often in today’s NHL. However, it remains a vital part to any team’s success, case in point, the defending Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils. Their team starts and ends primarily with Martin Brodeur, the goalie. Last season, the Devils were the top team defensively, while the team they defeated (Anaheim), was 6th in terms of goals allowed. As a matter of fact, the other 2 teams in the Conference Finals a year ago (Minnesota and Ottawa), finished 4th and 5th respectively in the league in total goals allowed.
But that was then, and this is now. New Jersey does remain the top team in goals allowed, but it wouldn’t be worth writing an article about something so obvious. The question today is: What teams have improved the most defensively through the first half of the 2003-04 season? Guess what, it’s not New Jersey… But who is it? The chart below will explain; you may be quite surprised with the results.
|New Jersey||2.02||1.88||-0.14 (19)|
|Tampa Bay||2.56||2.16||-0.40 (8)|
|Los Angeles||2.70||2.56||-0.14 (20)|
|St. Louis||2.71||2.42||-0.29 (10)|
|New York I.||2.82||2.61||-0.21 (12)|
|New York R.||2.82||2.64||-0.18 (18)|
|San Jose||2.92||2.18||-0.74 (1)|
Averages for the 2003-04 season as of games played through January 16, 2004. Each team’s rank is their ranking leaguewide in terms of their improvement (or lack thereof) this season.
San Jose has improved the most defensively this season. Raise your hand if you thought this was going to be the case. (No one better have raised their hand here, but if you did, put it down.) Calgary and the Habs are less than a goal every 20 games away in terms of differential. Not surprisingly, we see Pittsburgh at the bottom again, followed by another bottom-feeding team, Washington. Philadelphia is 28th overall in terms of improvement, but that’s because their goaltending is not as strong as it was last season (in fact, they’re 12th overall in total goals allowed this season).
Overall, 23 out of 30 teams improved their goals allowed per game average through the first half of the season, while 7 teams saw their average go up, only 2 of which see themselves in a playoff spot at this time. Now, some league-wide numbers: In 2002-03, teams allowed roughly 2.65 goals per game. This season? Only 2.48 goals per game. The difference: Teams are allowing 0.17 less goals each night, despite the NHL’s best efforts to increase scoring in the NHL. So in other words, shrinking the goalie equipment has made the goalies…better? How big of a factor is defence this season? 12 out of the top 13 teams in terms of goals allowed per game currently find themselves in a playoff position. The numbers speak for themselves…
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Statistics courtesy of the National Hockey League.