Friday, April 3, 2015

Alex Ovechkin and the 50-Goal Season

The first player to score 50 goals in a single season was Maurice "Rocket" Richard in 1944-45. Just a few years prior the NHL had been reduced to a six-team league and increased its number of games in a season from 48 to 50. Richard picked up goals in bunches, including a five-goal effort against the Detroit Red Wings on December 28, 1944, and while those who defended him employed every manner of obstruction to slow his scoring rate down, he carried 49 goals into the last game of the regular season. With 2:15 remaining in a tilt at the old Boston Garden, Richard managed to notch number 50 and cement his legacy in the history of the league.

Gordie Howe would be the next to flirt with the 50-goal mark, compiling 49 in the 70 games of 1952-53, and Richard's 50 would remain unmatched until 1960-61 when Bernie Geoffrion reached that achievement in 64 games. The following year Bobby Hull hit 50 in 70 games and continued a roll in 1965-66 to be the first to amass at least 50 in multiple seasons, finally settling at 5 seasons of the accolade in 1971-72.

Phil Esposito joined Hull in 1974-75 after surviving 6 seasons as the league's top scorer with 5 50+ goal efforts. Guy Lafleur became the first to achieve it for 6 seasons in 1979-80. This so happened to be the same year some rookie named Wayne Gretzky managed his first 50+ goal season en route to 9 campaigns doing the same, an honour he shares with Mike Bossy who played only 10 seasons in the NHL.

Marcel Dionne and Mario Lemieux join the 6-seasons-or-more club and, with names like Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, and Pavel Bure alongside Esposito and Bobby Hull, the 5-season crew is even pretty darn special company to be in.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

So Long, Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum

When it was announced that the New York Islanders would be packing up operations at Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum to move to Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, I felt it would be a great opportunity for me to participate in a part of history as it were. I never experienced the Chicago Stadium, the Montreal Forum, Maple Leaf Gardens, the Spectrum in Philadelphia, or the Hartford Civic Center (RIP "Brass Bonanza").

So after a couple months of planning, I made the trip out to Long Island to see the Islanders host the Montreal Canadiens for what would prove to be a tilt that could possibly determine the top-seed in the East at the time.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Thoughts on the Goaltending Situation in San Jose

This season, I made a conscious decision not to write about the San Jose Sharks. I live in Chicago and I've witnessed the Blackhawks win two Stanley Cups as an Illinois resident so I've developed a soft spot for the club, I always root for the Montreal Canadiens as my Eastern Conference preference, and I've taken an interest in the emergence of the Blue Jackets, Ducks (blasphemy, I know), Stars, Blues, and Wild. I am a capital-H Hockey fan before any allegiance I may have but when the puck drops on any of the 1230 games in the NHL season, I Bleed Teal when the boys from my hometown are on the ice, without question. Me keeping hushed about the Sharks this year was just a show of some unfounded superstition I had relating to their success.

Well, I'm breaking the silence. We're all allowed to knock our favourite teams when they deserve it and, over the years, my general thought about the Sharks is that they play the most spirited 40 minutes of hockey you will ever see. They've put out a different look every season since I really started following the sport in 2007 but the story has remained the same: they come out strong, they sit back on a lead, they choke. I won't make excuses. It's like that girl that builds up your confidence for a year of cautious optimism and, when you finally ask her out, she just wants to be friends. They show so much promise and, just when you really start to believe that this could truly be the team, they're hitting the links and Pierre McGuire is spouting off about other players' junior teams for a few more weeks.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sophomore Slumps: 2013-14, Part 1

Every year, the Professional Hockey Writers Association votes for the Calder Memorial Trophy, the award bestowed upon "the player selected as most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League." A handful of previous winners went on to have stellar careers and, like Teemu Selanne (1992-93), Martin Brodeur (1993-94), and Daniel Alfredsson (1995-96), some are still having productive twilight years. Others, such as Alex Ovechkin (2005-06), Evgeni Malkin (2006-07), and Patrick Kane (2007-08), remain in a class of their own in the league.

Yet for every Brodeur or Malkin, you have your Andrew Raycrofts (2003-04) and Dany Heatleys (2001-02). Over a long enough timeline, a promising prospect may turn into a significant bust. This might manifest as a young player enters his scoring prime or he might just hit a brick wall after a strong debut.

While the jury may still be out on many of the following individuals, each one didn't live up to the promise of their rookie years in 2012-13. 2013-14 was almost business as usual with a full 82 games played for each team so a rough year may be chalked up to growing pains. Let's take inventory of who to look for next season to either bounce back or fade further away.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

2-4-T At Frozen Four 2014: Day 2

Saturday at the Frozen Four began with an afternoon open skate at the Wells Fargo Center. They opened the arena from 12:30pm to 2:30pm for fans to come down Broad Street, rent skates provided by Bauer, and traverse around the rink in standard counter-clockwise fashion.

Monday, April 14, 2014

2-4-T At Frozen Four 2014: Day 1

I admittedly don't have a whole lot of college hockey chops, my only real exposure to it being the Hockey City Classic in 2013 at Soldier Field in Chicago. That day featured two outdoor contests, one between Miami (Ohio) and Notre Dame, the other Minnesota versus Wisconsin, on a February day that got more and more frigid as the sun crept below the western edge of the stadium. While I can speak most fluently about NHL action, I'll never turn down an opportunity to take in some puck.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Jaroslav Halak: A Brief History

The date is March 4th, 2010. The Montreal Canadiens are squared off against the San Jose Sharks in a road game at the then HP Pavilion. The score is 2-1 Montreal entering the third period and while they are being outshot 29-19, 22 year-old goaltender Carey Price is holding the Habs in the game. At the 11:18 mark of the final frame, Canadien defenceman Roman Hamrlik commits a hooking penalty against winger Ryane Clowe, sending the Sharks to the power play. A minute and fourteen seconds later, Dany Heatley tips a Dan Boyle shot past Price, tying the game at 2 per side. The Sharks don't relent and just over two and a half minutes after the man-advantage marker, they score again to take the lead and, after the final 4:55 ticks off the clock, the game.

Waking up the following morning, Montreal found themselves sitting in 10th in the East. On the previous night, 7th seed Boston bested conference-worst Toronto in a shootout and 8th seed Atlanta rolled over the New York Islanders in a 6-3 decision. While Atlanta, as well as the 9th place New York Rangers, all had matched Montreal with 66 points, the Thrashers held three games in hand over the Canadiens with the Rangers' one game providing the buffer. As is usual in the NHL, the playoff bubble was a crowded place, but the odds were slowly starting to turn against the team from Quebec.