TEMPE, Ariz. — The NHL wants more offense in its product and has either considered or implemented changes to equipment, the size of the offensive and neutral zones and the rules to try to make that happen.
But Mathew Barzal believes the ultimate answer is right there in plain sight, under every players’ skates.
He certainly felt that way after one practice at Mullett Arena, the newly built state-of-the-art, 5,000-seat college rink on the Arizona State campus that is serving as the Coyotes’ temporary home for the next three seasons. Barzal raved about the quality of the ice surface.
“It’s everything,” he told Newsday. “It really is everything. The NHL, if they want to increase scoring, it needs to be the ice. There are some rinks that you can’t make a pass the last five minutes of a period.”
The Islanders continued a five-game road trip on Friday night against the Coyotes in their first match at Mullett Arena. The team’s initial look at the facility was at Thursday’s practice.
“The ice is awesome,” Barzal said. “Hard and it was great.
“It’s more so the handling. When the ice is soft, you dig in a little more. But here I felt like I was right on top of the ice. It’s more so just for handling. When the ice gets bad, stickhandling is terrible.”
Scoring is on the rise in the NHL this season. Teams were averaging 3.16 goals per game entering Friday’s play, per Hockey-Reference.com. That’s up from 3.14 last season and 2.94 in the truncated 2020-21 season. The NHL could see teams averaging the most goals per game this season since 1995-96, when the average was 3.14.
It’s a small sample, but Barzal’s observation still seems to have weight. An average of 6.5 goals combined were scored in the first six games at Mullett Arena. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the league-wide average was 6.25 goals.
UBS Arena, like Mullett Arena, was constructed with top-notch ice-making equipment and piping, and the ice reviews for the Islanders’ new home have been mostly positive.
But almost all of the typically sized NHL arenas, including UBS Arena, which also hosts concerts and some college basketball and other sporting events, are multi-purpose facilities. That means the ice is constantly being covered and uncovered, which reduces the quality of the ice.
That’s not the case at Mullett Arena, designed specifically for hockey. Basketball is played elsewhere at Arizona State. Also, Mullett Arena’s relatively small size, certainly compared with some of the NHL’s more cavernous buildings such as Chicago’s United Center, Los Angeles’ Crypto.com Arena or Newark’s Prudential Center, allows the arena temperature to be better regulated even out in the desert.
For the most part, NHL players have gotten used to playing at some rinks with less-than-ideal ice conditions.
“With the schedules and different things and different teams or concerts coming in and out and changing [the setup], I’m sure it’s tough,” Brock Nelson said. “They do as good a job as they can. I’m not too sure how they do it or what the science is behind it. They try to get as much feedback as they can to correct different things. Most nights it’s pretty good. I’m sure, at the end at most places, it gets a little choppy. That’s just from playing and wear and tear. But most places, it feels pretty good.”
Meanwhile, Islanders players were intrigued by a once-a-season visit to Mullett Arena for nostalgia reasons, not just the quality of the ice.
“It’s actually cool,” Barzal said. “It’s fun. I feel like we’re back in junior [hockey]. I think it’s a good once-a-year thing. So I’m excited, actually.”