History of the National Hockey League/1992–present/Rules and innovations
Hoping to reduce the number of tie games during the regular season, the NHL decided that beginning in the 1999–2000 season, in any game tied after regulation time, both teams would be guaranteed one point, while the team that won in overtime would earn a second point. The theory was that rather than playing conservatively to earn a point for a tie, teams would press for the extra point for the overtime win. In the 2005–06 season the NHL eliminated tie games altogether, as the shootout was introduced to decide all regular season games tied after the five-minute overtime period. The shootout has proven controversial; critics have called it a gimmick, and expressed fierce opposition to any suggestion of using it to decide playoff games, though the league has not pushed for this to happen. It has also been argued that teams are playing it safe, taking no chances in regulation in order to bring the game to overtime, where they are each guaranteed a point. The shootout also has many supporters, among them Dallas head coach Dave Tippett, who stated that many fans enjoy it.
The shootout was one of several rule changes made in 2005 as the league attempted to increase offence following the lockout. The two-line pass rule was eliminated, allowing teams to pass from their defensive zone to anywhere in the neutral zone. Previously, such passes could only be made to their own half of the neutral zone. The rule was intended to encourage long breakout passes and create more breakaways. Teams that commit an icing infraction are no longer allowed to make a line change before a faceoff, and goaltenders are now prohibited from playing the puck in the end-zone corners behind the goal line. They are allowed to play the puck directly behind the net, within the trapezoid marked by diagonal lines from the goal line to the end boards.
One of the most controversial changes was the league's zero-tolerance policy on obstruction penalties. The league hoped that the game could be opened up if it cracked down on "clutching and grabbing". The tighter regulations have met with complaints about the legitimacy of some calls, that players are diving to draw penalties, and that officials are not calling enough penalties.
The changes initially led to a sharp increase in scoring. Teams combined to score 6.1 goals per game in 2005–06, more than a goal per game higher than in the 2003–04 season. This represented the highest single-season increase in offence since 1929–30. However, scoring has rapidly declined since, approaching pre-lockout totals in 2007–08. Despite a brief rise in goals scored per game in 2008-2009, the number again began a decline the next year. This decline continued uninterrupted until 2013-14, the season following a labour dispute the previous year that had reduced the season to only 48 games, rather than the typical 82 games per year. The increase, however, only saw an additional 0.04 goals per game more than the year before, and the league immediately saw the decline in scoring continue. In 2016-17, average scoring in the league began a rapid increase, although it wasn't very large that season, seeing a mere 0.12 goal per game increase from the following year. However, the season saw a 8-7 overtime win by the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Washington Capitals, the first game with a combined goals total of fifteen since October 27, 2011. As well, the season saw two games with one team scoring ten goals, the first being a 10-0 win by the Columbus Blue Jackets against the Montreal Canadiens on November 4. This was the first 10 goal performance by one team in a single game since March 30, 2011. The scoring averages increased quickly in the next two seasons, reaching an average of about six goals per game by 2018-19, the first season averaging more than three goals per game per team since 2005-06. The scoring averages peaked at an average of 6.04 goals per game in 2019-20, but the amount of extremely high scoring games dropped, with no games featuring either fifteen goal combined totals or ten goal single team performances before the regular season was ended prematurely on March 12, 2020, due to COVID-19 concerns. The 2020-21 season was delayed from starting until January 13, 2021. This season featured a rule change that allowed a player to be considered "on-side" when one of his skates is in the air and has not passed over the opposing blue line before the puck enters that zone unless there is a delayed offside being called. This rule change can be expected to contribute to more goals being allowed, although the amount of times when this rule will be needed is expected to be minimal.