We're now a month and a half into the season and the Pittsburgh Penguins have averaged just 2.27 goals per game. This is partially a case of early struggles skewing the overall results as if you look at their last eight contests, they have averaged 2.875 goals per game, which is good, but not amazing given their top-end talent.
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The impact of the Penguins' overall slow start is still apparent just by looking at the team's leaderboard as it outlines a core of forwards that ranges from those that are mildly below expectations, like Evgeni Malkin (12 points in 15 games) and Phil Kessel (11 points) to those that have severely underperformed overall.
Sidney Crosby is the most clear example as he just has two goals and nine points in 15 contests. He's one that I'm not particularly worried about though and not just because of his extensive history of success. Crosby heating up is one of the reasons that the Penguins have been more effective lately as the superstar has six points in his last six games.
Of course, betting on Malkin, Kessel, and Crosby to bounce back isn't a bold move, but what about Hornqvist (five points), Perron (four), and Kunitz (two)? The fact is that none of those three are safe bets going forward. Part of the reason for that is that they are no longer near sure-things to consistently get top-six minutes.
Pascal Dupuis being healthy is part of the reason, but Beau Bennett has also emerged as a serious top-six candidate. That's five players competing for three spots (Malkin, Crosby, and Kessel are obviously taking the other three) and the most likely scenario is that you're going to see them inserted in and out of the first and second lines throughout the season.
Another team that's severely underperformed offensively is the Tampa Bay Lightning, but they're a different story because unlike the Penguins, it's not a slow start that's spoiling their overall numbers. In fact, Tampa Bay was strong out of the gate and has struggled since. The Lightning has an average of 2.29 goals per game this season, but that drops to just 1.5 if you look at their last eight contests, as we did for Pittsburgh.
Let's give the Lightning's slump further context: Goaltender Ben Bishop has allowed just eight goals in his last five games and has lost all of those contests. Among goaltenders that have lost at least four games, he has the third best GAA in defeats this season at 2.40, which speaks to the level of offensive support he's gotten.
Steven Stamkos only has 11 points in 17 contests this season, but actually he hasn't been cold lately. In fact, he's on a five-game point streak even as his teammates struggle to get anything going.
Instead depth has been a big problem for the Lightning, which is in clear contrast to 2014-15. Last season they had five players that recorded at least 50 points and four that surpassed the 20-goal mark. So far though, Hedman and Stamkos are the only Lightning players that are on pace for at least 50 points (and even then just barely) and two players on their way to at least 20 goals in Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.
The good news is that there's still plenty of time for the Lightning to rebound and they should.
Let's wrap things up by talking about scoring overall because while Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay have been in the bottom half of the league overall this season, it certainly hasn't been an offensively charged campaign. So far we're averaging just 2.67 goals per team, per game this season, down from 2.73 goals last season when we didn't have a single 90+ point player. At this rate this will be the lowest scoring season since the 2003-04 campaign, which was the final season of the old era.
Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock has been advocating for bigger nets and while some groan at the idea or say that it would go against the tradition of the game, his logic is simple: Goalies have gotten bigger while the net size has stayed the same. By insisting on keeping the net size consistent, we have therefore changed the game through inaction.
Whether or not you buy into that, it's true that different eras are not easily comparable either way. We like to stack up Crosby and Stamkos have done against players from different times, but just because two players finish with similar point totals doesn't mean that they were equivalent players. Historical numbers mean little unless you provide context and that will be true whether regardless of what changes the NHL does or doesn't make.