Points harder to come by for NHL's top scorers this season
DENVER (AP) When it comes to scoring, Sid the Kid's pace this season is no match for the greatest by the Great One.
Pittsburgh forward Sidney Crosby is in line to win the scoring title with what can be projected to be about 85 points. That's a number Wayne Gretzky reached by midseason when he accumulated 215 during his record-setting year in 1985-86.
Granted, a much different time and way different style back then. Still, the NHL's top players aren't racking up the points with as much regularity this season, even though scoring around the league (5.3 goals per game) is consistent with what it's been for the last three seasons, according to STATS.
Crosby may just take the Art Ross Trophy with the lowest point total in a season not shortened by a lockout since 1961-62.
For that, credit goaltending, dogged defensemen, talent spread across four lines, more reliance on video to neutralize a team's top scorer and, of course, goaltending - it can't be emphasized enough.
''Back in the early `90s, late 80s, it was hooking and holding and grabbing and clutching that was tough,'' said Jeremy Roenick, a longtime NHL player turned NBC studio analyst. ''Now, it's just players that are just big, strong and fast. It's a tough time to score goals.''
Crosby leads the way with 79 points (25 goals, 54 assists in 71 games after missing some time with the mumps). This, after a 104-point campaign a year ago when he won the scoring title.
Nothing is wrapped up yet, though - New York Islanders center John Tavares has 77 points and Philadelphia's Jakub Voracek is close behind with 76.
Then there's Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, who leads the league with 50 goals.
''Thank goodness Ovechkin is still putting the puck in net like he is, so we have something to talk about in terms of the 50-goal mark, because that's always exciting,'' Roenick said. ''It's nice to have the megastar that you can build up every single night. But it's nice for a team to have more balance throughout the lineup.''
That definitely applies to Chicago, one of the top teams in the Western Conference. With leading scorer Patrick Kane (64 points in 61 games) rehabbing from surgery for a broken collarbone, Jonathan Toews (63) and Marian Hossa (57) have helped pick up the slack.
''I'd like to see guys get 100 points. I'd like to see 50-goal scorers again. I'd like to see all that stuff be brought in,'' St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. ''But one of the problems you have right now is there's just too much mobility in the game. Too many teams have four lines that can skate. They have four (defensemen) that are mobile.''
The goaltenders are more athletic and harder to solve, too. There was a time when a save percentage of .900 was considered solid by goaltender standards. Not anymore. Every goalie in the top 15 this season has a save percentage of .920 or better, with Montreal's Carey Price leading the way at .936.
''They're always in perfect position, and even when they're not they can still make the save,'' Avalanche forward Matt Duchene said. ''You look at the top guy in the league, about a point per game. That's minuscule compared to what it's been in the past.''
Some of that has to do with video as teams spend more time scheming against the best in the league. Find a way to stop Crosby's line, for instance, and make someone else beat you.
''There's more attention to detail, more attention to other players' tendencies and a lot more video and technology that has allowed coaching to be that much better,'' Roenick said. ''Players on teams are more prepared game in and game out.''
''There's always a lot of emphasis on the top players and shutting them down,'' Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. ''So you try to take away all their opportunities. It could just be a down year and guys will turn it up again next year.''
Colorado forward Jarome Iginla wouldn't mind seeing the nets widened to give scorers more of a chance. There have been three times as many shutouts (157) as hat tricks (46) this season, according to STATS.
''The balance has swung a little too much on the defensive side, in the goalie's favor,'' Iginla said. ''I'd like to see some of that swing back to the offensive side.''
AP Sports Writers Howard Fendrich and Will Graves contributed.