Of­fense com­ing from every­where around NHL

Antelope Valley Press - - SPORTS - By STEPHEN WHYNO

Alain Nasred­dine has watched New York Rangers de­fense­men go to the front of the net and hang out be­low the goal line.

It wasn’t like this back in his play­ing days.

Nasred­dine scored one goal in 74 NHL games as a de­fense­man from 1998-2008. Now, the in­terim New Jer­sey Devils coach sees a league in which de­fense­men are ex­pected to score — and they are de­liv­er­ing.

Goals are com­ing from every­where this sea­son: lacrosse-style from An­drei Svech­nikov and Filip Fors­berg, a ton from the blue line and even one from Nashville goal­tender Pekka Rinne. A to­tal of 661 dif­fer­ent play­ers have scored at least once this sea­son, a tes­ta­ment to bal­anced at­tacks around the league.

“You want a five-man of­fense,” Nasred­dine said. “The way the game is played right now, you need a five-man of­fense with D-men join­ing, whether that’s off the rush or in the of­fen­sive zone.”

There are an av­er­age of 6.12 goals per game so far this sea­son, the sec­ond straight year that num­ber has sur­passed six and just the third time in the past 23 sea­sons. The top four goal scor­ers are all for­wards 24 or younger; more im­pres­sively, 200 de­fense­men have com­bined to put up 727 goals.

Wash­ing­ton’s John Carl­son is on pace to be the NHL’s first 100-point de­fense­man since Brian Leetch in 1991-92. But he’s just the leader of the pack as the style of play in the league moves more and more to­ward get­ting de­fense­men in­volved in the of­fense.

“Nowa­days, ev­ery­body ac­ti­vates the D,” Ari­zona coach Rick Toc­chet said. “I don’t think there’s a team that doesn’t try to get their D to join the rush. You can’t just have your top two de­fense­men (be) of­fen­sive guys. You have to have ev­ery­body par­tic­i­pate.”

Look no fur­ther than the Nashville Preda­tors for a prime ex­am­ple of that. Even af­ter trad­ing P.K. Sub­ban, Nashville’s blue line can still pile up the goals and has com­bined for 29 through 48 games.

“Teams want their de­fense­men to jump up, want their de­fense­men in the play,” Preda­tors de­fense­man Ro­man Josi said. “Ev­ery team has kind of that fourth guy in the rush all the time, and even in the O-zone, teams are mov­ing. I think that’s just kind of the way the game is now.”

The game is trend­ing that di­rec­tion so much that Carolina coach Rod BrindA’ mour tells his team, “You score off the rush and you score on the power play.”

Hur­ri­canes de­fense­man Jac­cob Slavin said odd-man rushes with de­fense­men are “the best op­por­tu­ni­ties to score” and that, com­bined with the tal­ent of young de­fense­men like Dal­las’ Miro Heiska­nen, Colorado’s Cale Makar and Buf­falo’s Ras­mus Dahlin, has been re­spon­si­ble for much more of­fense from the back end.

“You look at the young guys com­ing in: Heiska­nen, Makar, some of these re­ally young guys, and they come in and they’re con­tribut­ing right away,” Slavin said. “I think some teams are driven by their de­fense, and when their de­fense­men are go­ing, that’s when the team’s play­ing re­ally well. Some of those teams have those of­fen­sive de­fense­men that are ex­pected to put up big num­bers.”

Josi, whose 14 goals sit one off the league lead among de­fense­men, is a peren­nial Nor­ris Tro­phy con­tender in part be­cause of how much em­pha­sis he puts on de­fense. But he’s also the pro­to­typ­i­cal mod­ern-day blue liner in that he can do it all.

“You’re a de­fense­man and your pri­mary job is to de­fend well,” Josi said. “But if you’re on the power play, if you con­sider your­self a two-way de­fense­man, yeah, you want to pro­duce of­fen­sively, too.”

Nasred­dine points out that teams like the Rangers — who lead the NHL in de­fense­men scor­ing — and the Cap­i­tals of­ten let their de­fense­men go to the front of the net or even be­low the goal line. That used to be a no-no ex­cept for some of hockey’s best who could han­dle those re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Now it’s just part of what coaches ex­pect, and it’s chang­ing who’s play­ing the po­si­tion.

“That’s why you’re see­ing more mo­bile de­fense­men, skat­ing de­fense­men, be­cause most coaches want those de­fense­men to be in­volved in the of­fense,” Nasred­dine said. “It’s been go­ing for a while now, but you see it more and more.” LIGHT­NING STRIK­ING Not long ago, the Tampa Bay Light­ning sat out­side a play­off po­si­tion in the East­ern Con­fer­ence. Af­ter win­ning the Pres­i­dents’ Tro­phy as the top reg­u­lar-sea­son team and get­ting swept out of the play­offs in the first round last sea­son, it was fair to worry about the Light­ning not putting as much value in the 82-game grind this time.

Tampa Bay is 12-2-1 since just be­fore Christ­mas and now trails At­lantic Di­vi­sion-lead­ing Bos­ton by just seven points with two ex­tra games left to play.

As­so­ci­ated Press

SCORE — Nashville Preda­tors’ Filip Fors­berg (9) and Ro­man Josi (59) cel­e­brate a goal dur­ing first pe­riod ac­tion against the Ed­mon­ton Oilers in Ed­mon­ton, Al­berta on Tues­day.

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