The NHL could be headed for a record-breaking number of one-goal games this post-season.
There have been 46 through Wednesday night, including 25 settled in overtime. Six more and the 2007 record of 51 one-goal games will fall.
“I think just throughout the league it’s so tight now,” Senators winger Clarke MacArthur told The Canadian Press. “Even the best team. You look at Pittsburgh — they’ve got All-Stars, but all the games are just (close).”
Eleven of the Senators’ 15 playoff games have been decided by a goal with eight resulting in wins (8-3-0). It’s not an accident either. Ottawa plays an extremely defensive brand of hockey designed by coach Guy Boucher, who arrived last May.
Boucher’s group was just above average with 40 games decided by a goal during the regular season. Detroit led the league with 45.
“There’s so many good players nowadays that can score very easily or make plays with not much time and space — that’s really what we try and focus on in here is to key in on their good guys and not give them odd-man rushes,” Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman said.
The 27-year-old Hoffman said he thinks teams are trying to limit mistakes against high-powered opponents with simple hockey. Playing careless, he said, means, “you’re going to get pounded. You give teams odd-man rushes the whole game, they’re going to score on a good amount of them.”
Pittsburgh was the highest-scoring team during the regular season, but has mustered only three goals through the first three games against Ottawa. Sidney Crosby, who led the NHL with 44 goals, has one in the series.
“You defend them well,” MacArthur said. “It’s not like the old days where — I don’t want to say they didn’t key on the top players — but you’re keying on the top players now. You’re literally building your shift around keeping them off the scoreboard. I’d hate to be one of the top guys.”
MacArthur wondered if increased speed and fewer enforcers across the league made for more even competition.
“There’s just no bad skaters really anymore,” he said. “They’re used to be five, six guys on each team where you’re like, ‘That guy can’t really move out here.’ He’s more of a shutdown guy or crash-and-bang (type). Everyone can skate now. Every D pairing. Every guy can move.”
Stellar goaltending might also be helping. The collective save percentage so far in these playoffs was .921 through Wednesday, ahead of the .917 mark last season.
Winning the game’s top prize inevitably means winning close games and it’s perhaps not surprising that the team with the most one-goal wins has taken the last four Cups, including Pittsburgh with eight in 2016. Ottawa is the current leader.
“It’s so tight,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said after a one-goal win over Anaheim earlier this week. “The scores at this time of the year generally are fairly low. And you wonder if 1-0 is going to do it for the night.”
The Ducks won 12 games by a goal when the current record of 51 was set, including three of four against the Senators in the Stanley Cup final.