Thursday, April 29, 2010

Greatest Upsets Ever

There has been lots of talk on whether or not the Canadiens first round defeat of Washington is the biggest upset in NHL playoff history. Washington after all finished this season with 33 more points than Montreal (121-88), and won the President's trophy by a good margin. As well, the fact that Montreal came back from down three games to one make the feat all the more impressive, it is definitely one of the top five upsets ever but in my opinion there are others that were as impressive or even moreso. What follows is my list, in reverse order of the top ten upsets in NHL playoff history.

10. 1978-79 Semi Finals, New York Rangers defeat New York Islanders

The Isles had the most points in the league with 116 and a winning percentage of .725 while the Rangers, although fifth overall in the league had 25 points less with 91. Led by a rejuvinated Phil Esposito, Don Maloney and goaltender John Davidson, the Blueshirts beat the Isles four games to two. The Islanders only two wins came in overtime. In my opinion, the fact that this upset was so late in the playoffs and not in the first round adds to it's lustre.

9. 1994-95 First Round, New York Rangers defeat Quebec Nordiques

The fourteenth overall Rangers knocked off the second place Nordiques in their swan song in La Belle Provence. With 65 points in 48 games for a .677 Win Pct, the Nordiques were on their way to winning the Cup next year, in Colorado but were beaten by the sub.500 Rangers. New York's 47 points translates to 8o in an 82 game season, while Quebec's would have been 111 points.

8. 1992-93 Second Round, New York Islanders defeat Pittsburgh Penguins

31 points seperated 13th ranked New York from the first overall Penguins, yet Islanders David Volek potted the winner in game seven overtime to knock out the defending champs.

7. 2008-09 First Round, Anaheim defeats San Jose

This one saw the 18th place Ducks knock out the President Trophy winning Sharks. San Jose had 117 points to Anaheim's 91 for a difference of 26 points. The differential of 18 spots in regular season ranking is second only to this year's Montreal/Washington.

6. 1950-51 Semi-Finals, Montreal defeats Detroit

Montreal with 65 points in 70 games knocked off the Wings who tallied 101 points in the season. Projected to 82 games Detroit 118 points, Montreal 76. This difference of 42 points by an upsetting team would be the fourth most ever.

5a. 1990-91 First Round, Minnesota defeats Chicago

5b.1990-91 Second Round, Minnesota defeats St.Louis

The sixteenth place North Stars pulled off back-to-back amazing upsets on the way to the Stanley Cup finals. The 68 point Stars first beat the top seed Blackhawks who had 106 points in six games, then they did the same to the second overall, 105 point Blues. Their run continued past the Oilers in the Semi-finals who were on an upset binge of their own. The Oilers with 80 points had beaten 102 point Calgary and 100 point Los Angeles before losing in five to the upstart North Stars.

4. 1929-30 Stanley Cup Finals, Montreal defeats Boston

The only reason this one isn't the greatest upset of all-time is because the final series consisted of only two games. The Bruins had complied 77 points in 44 games for a Win Pct of .875, the highest in NHL history. The Canadiens .580 Pct translates to 95 today, yet Boston's projects to 142. This 47 point difference would rank second all-time.

3. 1944-45 Semi-Finals, Toronto defeats Montreal

The Leafs were two points over .500, yet knocked off Montreal who had a Pct of .800. This translates to 85 pts for Toronto, 131 for Montreal and a pro-rated difference of 46 points. Led by 19 year old 'Teeder' Kennedy and Frank 'Ulcers' McCool in net, the Leafs won in six games. They managed to endure a 10-3 loss to the Habs in game five before finishing them off.

2. 2009-10 First Round, Montreal defeats Washington

Although finishing 8th in the East, the Canadiens were actually the 20th best team in the regular season due to the strength of the Western Conference. The twenty spots seperating the teams is the most ever for an upsetting team.

1. 1981-82 First Round, Los Angeles defeats Edmonton

This one has it all, a 17th ranked team defeating a second overall. A 63 point team defeating a 111 point squad. Daryl Evans (pictured at top) defeating Wayne Gretzky. The 48 point differential is the most ever. Although this was only a best of five series, it has to rank as the greatest upset in NHL history.

Honourable Mentions

1937-38 Finals, Chicago defeats Toronto

This one saw the worst ever Stanley Cup winning team in Chicago which finished the regular season with a .385 Win Pct. They beat Toronto 3 games to 1 and went 8-2 overall in the playoffs after winning only 14 in 48 games all season.

1970-71 First Round, Montreal defeats Boston

Although Boston had 121 points, Montreal's 97 was nothing to sneeze at, and the Habs actually were fouth overall in the league. This one is an over-rated upset in my mind.

1985-86 First Round, Toronto defeats Chicago

Anytime a team with a .356 winning Pct and 57 points beats an 86 point team, it is a huge upset.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Playoff "Oh-Fer" Club, and Windsor's Comeback

After Montreal's Maxim Lapierre notched his first playoff goal today in his 22nd career game, the the list of active NHL forwards without a career playoff tally is down to six gentlemen. I chose the minimum amount of games at 15 to gain entry in this exclusive, and unwanted club.

Leading the way, and finished for another season is Buffalo's Paul Gaustad with 31 games played without a goal. He has scored 10, 12 and 12 goals in each of the last three seasons, yet is still searching for number one in the post season. Bruin Steve Begin at 29 games will have to score in the second round or risk passing Gaustad on the active list.
Chicago's Troy Brouwer will take his 23 games without scoring to the second round against Vancouver, and Petteri Nokelainen of Phoenix will enter game seven against Detroit with 21 scoreless playoff matches.
Jannik Hansen of the Canucks sits at 18 career scoreless games, while Fredrik Sjostrom at 17 games unfortunately (or unfortunately) didn't have a chance to add to his 17 game drought as he toiled for Toronto who has been taking time off form playoff competition for six years now.

The Windsor Spitfires just completed a comeback against the Kitchener Rangers after being down three games to none. They rallied to win the last four games and in the process outscored the Rangers by a total of 20 goals to 10. They are only the third team in OHL history to comeback from three games to none. Ottawa 67's did it in the first round in 1988 and Windsor did it in 2005 also in the first round against Sault Ste. Marie.
In the process of the comeback, Windsor was lead by Scott Timmins with 5 goals and 3 assists in the last four games. Taylor Hall had 4 goals 3 assists, Adam Henrique notched 6 goals 1 assist and Ryan Ellis added 6 assists in the four staright wins.
The Kitchener collapse can in no way be attributed to OHL playoff scoring leader Jeff Skinner who had 4 goals and 2 helpers in the four losses. However, the bubble did seem to burst for Don Cherry favourite, 17 year old defenseman Ryan Murphy. After collecting 3 goals and 2 assists in the first three games he had a mere 2 assists in the final four games while posting a minus eight rating.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fort St.John Allan Cup Champs

Last night, the hometown Fort St.John Flyers were crowned amateur champions of Canada. They beat arch-rival Bentley Generals 4-1 to claim the Allan Cup. The Flyers were led by brothers Rod and Chris Stevens, each being named a tournament All-Star team with Rod named MVP.

Rod Stevens tallied 9 points in 4 Allan Cup games, while brother Chris had 6 goals in 3 games. Fort St.John native, Rod Stevens most recently played pro in France and Britain. He scored 20 goals for the AHL Syracuse Crunch in 96/97 and had 109 points Kamloops in his last year of junior in 93/94.

Fort St.John team mate Kimbi Daniels notched 6 points in the 4 Allan Cup games. He was a third round pick of Philadelphia in 1990 after a 118 point year with the Swift Current Broncos. Daniels also played for Team Canada in the 1992 World Junior Championships scoring 7 points in 7 games. He made a nice career in the ECHL since the late '90s mainly with the Anchorage, Alaska Aces.
Fort St.John goalie Clayton Pool starred with the Kootenay Ice in 98/99 before a five year career with the University of Alberta. Most recently he tended the twine for Muskegon of the IHL.
All-Star goalie from finalist Bentley Generals, Jordan Alford is an alum of NCAA R.P.I. and played one game this past season with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL. He posted a .939 Save Pct. in the Allan Cup.
Other notables that competed in this year's tourney were Dundas Real McCoys, Ryan Kuwabara who was drafted in the second round by Montreal in 1990 and would play six seasons in Japan in the late 90's. Bentley General Travis Brigley played with the Colorado Avalanche in 03/04 after a junior career with Lethbridge. This season he played with Ljubljana Olimpija in Austria.
Darren Van Impe of Bentley is the player with the most NHL experience in this year's Allan Cup, having played 411 games with five teams, mainly Anaheim and Boston.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Carey Price is having a tough time.

After losing to the Caps in game 4, Carey Price has now lost his last eight (8) consecutive playoff starts dating back to April 26, 2008.
Here's his numbers in those starts: (W-L, GAA, SPct)

0-8, 4.27, .865

In his defense however, during the time that Price has been in the net over those eight games his Habs have scored a grand total of 14 goals.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fabulous Finn 'tenders

Halfway through the opening round of the playoffs and a look at the goaltending stats is quite revealing and startling to Canadian hockey fans.
Among those who have played at least two games, there is not a Canadian-born goalie in the top-ten in Goals Against Average. Read that again.....amazing.

Here they are with their country of origin;

  1. Pekka Rinne, Finland 1.35
  2. Brian Boucher, USA 1.98
  3. Annti Niemi, Finland 2.01
  4. Tuuka Rask, Finland 2.01
  5. Craig Anderson, USA 2.11
  6. Evgeni Nabokov, Russia 2.12
  7. Semyon Varlamov, Russia 2.12
  8. Ryan Miller, USA 2.36
  9. Jonathan Quick, USA 2.45
  10. Jimmy Howard, USA 2.78
  11. Martin Brodeur, Canada 2.98
  12. MA Fleury, Canada 3.01
  13. Roberto Luongo, Canada 3.20
  14. Ilya Bryzgalov, Russia 3.26
  15. Jose Theodore, Canada 3.70
  16. Jaro Halak, Czech 4.07
  17. Brian Elliott, Canada 4.14

Wow, five Americans, three Finns and two Russians in the top ten with the Finns being 3 of the top 4. Team Canada's Olympic trio, Brodeur, Luongo and Fleury are all hovering around a 3.00 GAA.

When we look at Save Percentage Leaders, the first Canadian doesn't appear until 13th place with Marty Brodeur at .886. Including Pascal Leclaire and Andrew Raycroft (both under 60 minutes played), Canadian goaltenders hold down the bottom seven positions in the entire league.

The totals for each country are; (W-L, GAA, SPct)

  1. Finland 5-4, 1.79, .939
  2. USA 10-8, 2.32, .929
  3. Russia 6-3, 2.57, .912
  4. Canada 6-10, 3.40, 876

Is this an anomally, or a trend? There may very well be only two Canadian born goalies remaining after the first round.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Towel Power, An in depth look.

Most hockey fans know the story of how Vancouver Canuck coach waved a white towel in mock surrender to the officiating. It was late in game two of the 1982 Stanley Cup semi-finals against the Chicago Black Hawks, and the Canucks had just went down 4-1 on a Denis Savard goal. The towels went up, Neilson was tossed from the game (and later fined $1000) and a tradition was born. What makes a coach get to such a point of frustration? With the help of a great little book by long-time Vancouver journalist Tony Gallagher, we can learn what actually happened. Gallagher's book "Towels, Triumph and Tears" was published right after the playoff run of '82.

Vancouver had advanced to the semis that year sweeping the Calgary Flames and beating the "Miracle on Manchester" L.A. Kings 4 games to 1. As unimpressive as the Canucks regular season record was at 30-33-17, they had still not played a team with a superior record than them until the Islanders in the final. The 'Nucks pulled out a 2-1 overtime win in game 1 against Chicago on a goal by Jim Nill. Then came the towel game.

Down 2-0 going into the third, referee Bob Myers had already assesed five penalties to Vancouver and two to Chicago. Early in the period, Stan Smyl floated a fifty footer past Murray Bannerman, but soon after Denis Savard made it 3-1. At the five minute mark, Harold Snepsts was given a misconduct while tussling with Grant Mulvey while Hawk Terry Ruskowski was unpenalized in a skirmish with the much smaller Gerry Minor. The next penalty in the words of Tony Gallagher; "At 11:46 Halward was penalized when he had his stick in the vicinity of Bill Gardner's gloves and suddenly the Hawk centre's feet came flying up in an unmistakeable dive." Then the clincher.Canuck Curt Fraser's rebound goal of a Neil Belland shot was ruled offside by the linesman. "But then Bannerman viciosly swung his stick at Fraser and the ensuing melee resulted in Vancouver being the only team shorthanded. When Savard scored to make it 4-1 Neilson had seen enough", states Gallagher.

With the ensuing centre ice face-off lining up, Neilson grabbed a towel, put it on the end of a stick and hoisted it in the air. He held it their for about 40 seconds before some players joined in. Minor, Tiger Williams and Lars Molin all hoisted a towel, but amazingly referee Myers had not yet noticed the display. Lars Lindgren went over the boards to get his attention in the direction of the Vancouver bench and the ref instantly lost it. Neilson, Williams and Minor were ejected. Along with the $1000 fine to the coach, the team was fined $10,000.

Neilson was quoted;"Believe me, it wasn't anything contrived. It was a spur of the moment protest. I had seen enough and I saw the towels and I said to Jimmy Nill, gimme your stick, and that was it, I had no idea what i was starting."
Of course, they had still managed a split in Chicago Stadium and went home to take control of the series. In the process of winning 4 games to 1, Vancouver and Chicago set an NHL record for most penalty minutes in a series with 560.

The Canucks would be swept by the Islanders and over the 17 playoff games they totalled 673 PIM's as a team. Tiger Williams collected 116, CurtFraser 98, Colin Campbell 89, Jim Nill 67, Darcy Rota 54 and Harold Snepsts 50 all which project to over 240 PIM's each in an 80 game sked. It's obvious that referee Bob Myers wasn't the only one calling infractions on the cinderella Canucks that year.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Chris DiDomenico, back with a vengance.

You may recall the story of Christopher DiDomenico. Last May 5th, in the midst of a terrific season, he broke his femur while chasing down an icing call. That year he had starred in the World Juniors on a line with John Tavares and was leading the Quebec League in playoff scoring with 35 points in 15 games. He underwent surgery on his femur and knee, and by October of last year he had begun rehab. He was given a stall in the Toronto Maple Leafs practice facility in order to receive the best rehab available and to be surrounded by professionals who may one day be his team mates.

Amazingly, "DiDo" returned to game action with Drummondville on Feb. 17 of this year and notched three points. He scored a point in 11 of the 12 games finishing with 22 points. Drummondville has advanced to the QMJHL semi-finals and this past Sunday, DiDomenico tallied a pair of goals in a 5-2 loss. He is once again leading the "Q" in scoring with 20 points in 11 games. The Leafs are hoping he can bring his scoring touch and tenacity to either the AHL Marlies or maybe even as a third-line pest on the big squad.

On the topic of the Leaf's future (one of my favourite topics), Nazem Kadri is still tied for the playoff scoring lead in the OHL. Although London was eliminated in the second round, his 27 points in 12 games is tied with Jeff Skinner of the Kitchener Rangers. The 5'10" Skinner finished ranked 34th among North American skaters by Central Scouting. Third in scoring is undrafted Chris MacKinnon of Kitchener, and fifth (behind fourth place Taylor Hall) is Daniel Erlich of London, also undrafted. MacKinnon at 5'8"and Erlich at 5'6" are appear to have their size as the main impediment to being NHL prospects.

Out west in the WHL, Craig Cunningham of the Vancouver Giants leads with 20 points in 12 games. He is tied with Calgary's Brandon Kozun a Kings 6th round pick in 2009 who like Cunningham stands a mere 5'9". Fellow Vancouver Giant Brendan Gallagher sits third in scoring, and is an even shorter 5'8". This explains his Central Scouting ranking of 108th for Cunningham and 174th for Gallagher in the upcoming draft. It's not all smurfs at the top of the "Dub" scoring charts. 6'3" Ryan Johansen of Portland stands is ranked 10th by CSB and notched 18 points in 13 playoffs games before being eliminated. His team mate Nino Niederreiter is fifth in scoring and ranked 12th by Central Scouting.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The French Goalies of Cincinnati

The Cincinnati Mohawks may very well have been the greatest minor league hockey team of all-time. Between the years of 1952/53 and 1957/58, they finished first in the International Hockey League all six seasons and won the Turner Cup Championship five years in a row. The Mohawks worst season in that span produced a .675 winning percentage, every other year was over .700. They topped out in 1956/57 with a 50-9-1 record and a win pct. of .842.
A huge factor in the success of the Mohawks was their affiliation in the powerful Montreal Canadiens farm system.
In the early '50s the Habs had a stable of players under an extensive minor league umbrella
from the Quebec League Montreal Royals, the AHL's Buffalo Bisons, the Western League's Victoria Cougars and the Cincinnati Mohawks. During the aforementioned season of 56/57, Cincy had one of the most dominant seasons in hockey history. In the six team IHL, they were the only team to finish over .500 and had 44 more points than second place Indianapolis. Cincy scored 245 goals while giving up only 113, every other team in the league had a negative in the goals for/against department.
Interestingly, 56/57 was the first year in five that they were not anchored by a Quebecois goaltender. This year they had Glenn Ramsay between the pipes in his rookie pro season. He would go on to play until 1973/74 mainly in the IHL and was named top goalie in six seasons.
Prior to Ramsay, the 'Hawks were led by a constant chain of French tenders supplied by the Habs.
In 1952/53 they were treated to 19 year old Claude Evans from Longeuil, Quebec who would play all 60 games sporting a 2.53 average. Evans had a cup of coffee with the Canadiens in the mid-'50s and play as well with the Boston Bruins.
The 1953/54 season saw Evans move on to the Montreal Royals and Victoria Cougars and brought 20 year old Charlie Hodge to Cincinnati. The Lachine, Quebec native posted a 2.34 GAA
and even played 3 games with Buffalo in relief of their regular starter Jacques Plante.
1954/55 took Hodge to the Montreal Royals and brought Shawinigan Falls native Gaetan Dessureault to the Queen City on the Ohio River. Dessureault would prove to be the least distinguished goalie to pass through Cincy during this era, he would proceed to play another ten seasons mainly in the Eastern League never to see the NHL.
During these last two years, ex-NHLer (and Montreal native) Paul Bibeault played the mentor role. Bibeault, pictured at the top, veteran of eight rather uneventful NHL seasons played a handful of games for the Mohawks before hanging up the blades after the '55 season.
1954/55 was also the year the Mohawks had their first and only future NHL star skater come through town. Phil Goyette was in his first professional season after two with the Montreal Junior Canadiens and as a 21 year old topped the IHL with 41 goals and 92 points. Goyette apprenticed two more seasons with the Royals in the Quebec League before playing 941 games in the NHL. His Mohawk jersey is pictured above (for sale on eBay) and below during his playing days (he's on the right).
1955/56 saw the last of the French brigade of goalies come to town in the form of Grand'Mere, Quebec native Jacques Marcotte and Guy LeClerc of St.Hyacinthe. 20 year old Marcotte played 53 of the teams 60 games in his rookie pro season before moving on to the Trois Rivieres Lions of the QHL. He played until the mid-60s, never reaching the big-time. LeClerc was at the opposite end of his career, finishing up after eight pro years, only once getting as high as the AHL.

In finding out about these great Cincinnati squads of the 1950's, I also learned about their home arena The Cincinnati Gardens. Built in 1949 it was a near exact replica of Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens. It was in fact designed and built by the same company that constructed the Leafs shrine. The Cincy Gardens are still in use to this day and is seen below on the right side with MLG on the left.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Career Playoff Points per Game

In the history of the NHL, only 42 men have averaged at least one point per game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs while playing at least 20 career games. Forty-two players in the entire history of the game. Somewhat surprisingly, Barry Pederson ranks third overall with 1.53 points per game. Granted, he played only 34 games but he scored 52 points to rank behind the obvious Gretzky at 1.84 PPG and Lemieux at 1.61 PPG.
Alex Ovechkin in his 21 career playoff games is fourth all-time with 1.43 points per game and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are fifth and sixth in 49 games each with 1.29 and 1.27.
The top ten is rounded out by Hall of Famers Mark Messier (1.25), Mike Bossy (1.24), Bobby Orr (1.24) and Jari Kurri (1.17).
A few other surprises in the playoff Point per Game Club are;
Ken Linseman in 23rd with 120 pPts in 113 Games (1.06 PPG)
Dennis Maruk 24th with 1.06 PPG
Mark Pavelich 28th with 1.04 PPG
Jason Allison 39th with 1.00 PPG
Thomas Gradin 41st with 1.00 PPG
When it comes to Goals per Game in a Playoff career, only 23 men have averaged at least 0.50 Goals per Game in at least 20 games. Lemieux is tops with 0.71 GPG (76 G in 107 GP), and Ovechkin with his 15 goals in 21 games is tied at 0.71. Barry Pederson at 0.64 falls to fourth right behind Mike Bossy and ahead of Cy Denneny.
Rocket Richard scored 82 goals in 133 career playoff matches for 0.62 GPG and sixth overall.
The rest of the top ten are Cam Neely, Gretzky, Pavel Bure and Chris Kontos who scored 11 goals in 20 playoff games.
A couple of other unexpected names near the top of the Playoff Goals per Game are;
R.J. Umberger 14 goals in 26 games (0.54)
Fernando Pisani 15 in 30 games and
Rick Vaive 27 in 54 games.
Of course we'll have to see if the likes of Crosby, Ovechkin and Malkin can continue at these rates over the course of a long career.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cup Predictions and Stuff

There's so many great things in this image.

The greatest time of the year is about to start, The Stanley Cup Playoffs.
A few thoughts on the last week of regular season;
NHL Goals Leaders (Minus Empty Net Goals)
Sidney Crosby 50
Steven Stamkos 48
Alex Ovechkin 45
Patrick Marleau 43
Shorthanded Goals on the Season (Approx 4,940 Minutes)
Minnesota, Montreal, Phoenix 3
Tampa Bay 2
Shorthanded Goals in One Minute, Four Seconds
Boston, April 10 3
Points in last 8 games played
Sidney Crosby, Pitt 20 (6G 14A)
Henrik Sedin, Van 12 (1G 11A)
Alex Ovechkin, Was 11 ( 5G 6A)
Daniel Sedin, Van 14 (8G 6A)
John Tavares, NYI 11 (3G 8A)
Tom Gilbert, Edm 12 (2G 10A)
Fantasy Points Since I dropped Roberto Luongo in favour of Jimmy Howard on March 24
(2 points for a win, 1 for OT Loss, 3 extra for a shutout, 1 for an assist)
Howard 24 points (8-0-1, 2 SO, 1 assist)
Luongo 7 points ( 3-3-1, 0SO, 0 assist)
My Picks for Conference Finalists
Chicago over Detroit in 6
Washington over Pittsburgh 7
Stanley Cup Washington over Chicago in 6

Friday, April 9, 2010

Doug Messier, Mark's father

Another recent addition to The Den, this Western Hockey League programme from 1961. The Edmonton Flyers were in their second last year of existence and featured a rookie Doug Messier on defense. The 25 year old was in the middle of a two year self-imposed trial with pro-hockey. He put his teaching career on hold to see if he could make it. In hindsight,it was a good choice, as he went on to play eight full years in the Western circuit. In 67/68 he would actually lead all defensemen in scoring with 44 points in 66 games.

Doug went on to coach in the Alberta Junior League in the early and mid '70s mentoring the likes of 15 year olds Wayne Babych, Tony Currie and sons Paul and Mark Messier. He took a few years off then came back to coach third son Tom in 81/82.
Doug was instrumental in the formation of the Professional Hockey Player's Association and served as it's first Executive Director from 1967-69.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Leafs Game Day....1962

I scanned these pics from a 1962 Maple Leaf Gardens program. The article describes how the team arrives at the Gardens at 10:30 on the morning of a game to check their equipment. There was no game day skate other than putting the skates on while still wearing your suit to test out the edges. The shots of them on the ice with skates and suits are pretty cool.

Bert Olmstead and Eddie Litzenberger putting on the blades.

Billy Harris out for the most casual game day skate in history.

Bob Pulford and captain George Armstong yukking it up.

Tim Horton digging into his 2pm dinner of steak and potatoes.

Horton racking it up on the living room couch before another big game.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Goalie Splits

If I asked you which NHL goaltender has the best numbers on the road, would you have guessed St.Louis' Ty Conklin? (pictured above with his Village People 'stache) Neither would I. I like looking at road numbers for goalies as it generally gives a truer sense of which are the top 'tenders in the league. Most have goalies have superior stats at home, but it's on the road where the real tests occur and the moxy is tested. Conklin, mind you has played only 17 games away from home, but among goalies with at least 15 away games, he has far and away the best numbers. Click chart below to enlarge...

Lots of the usual suspects that are at the top of the overall goalie leaders, but Conklin really does stand out like a sore thumb. A few other oddities; Jose Theodore jumps from 33rd place in overall Goals Against Avg. up to 13th in Road GAA. Perhaps this reinforces the expectations of a long Washington playoff run. Evgeni Nabokov drops from 10th in GAA and 7th in Save Pct to 19th and 21st respectively on the road.
Nashville's Pekka Rinne falls from 15th in overall GAA to 27th on the road, and even worse, Roberto Luongo plummets from 17th in GAA and 18th in Save Pct to 34th in GAA and 33rd in Save Pct on the road. These should be real alarming numbers heading into the playoffs for any Canuck fan.

Looking closer at the above mentioned playoff-bound Western Conference goalies, Nabokov, Rinne and Luongo; it would seem the Canucks should indeed be somewhat concerned. Below are the leaders among goalies versus the Western Conference teams.

Marty Turco ranks a surprising second in Save Pct against the Western Conference. He has been torched to the tune of 3.62 GAA and .884 SPct vs. the East. Mathieu Garon of Columbus has an overall GAA of 2.81 but a nice 2.48 avg against the tougher West. Bryzgalov and Phoenix certainly should be believed as contenders one of these days, the numbers don't lie.
Among the eight playoff-bound goalies, Bobby Lu ranks last in GAA and second last in Save Pct versus only western teams. Do I smell a first round upset of the Canucks?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Connie Dion

I was checking the online Detroit Free Press newspaper to see if Jimmy Howard was getting the start today and discovered Chris Osgood is getting the nod. This snaps Howard's streak of consecutive games at 25. Not since 1991/92 and Tim Cheveldae with 29, has a Wing 'tender started more games in a row. I also learned that Howard falls one shy of the Red Wing rookie mark for consecutive starts. Now, I definitely remember Tim Cheveldae, but not Connie Dion the rookie who started 26 straight games in 1943/44.

After my Connie Cobb story of earlier in the week, the name Connie jumped out at me. I had to check him out. Dion was one of the many war-time era stop gap measures employed throughout the league (see Steve Buzinski). The difference was that Dion was actually not half bad. He signed as a free agent in Jan. 1944 after Detroit has used Jimmy Franks, a 35 year old Normie Smith and a 17 year old Harry Lumley.

The 5 foot, 4 inch and 140 pound Dion proceeded to play the remaining 26 games of the year going 17-7-2 with a 3.08 GAA. He would finish second in the NHL in wins and fourth in GAA, not bad for a little guy who signed halfway through the year. Dion recorded his first and only NHL shutout stopping nine whole shots versus the Rangers in the most lopsided shutout in history, 15-0.

Dion and the second place Wings were upset in five games in the 1944 semi-finals by the Black Hawks but he posted a respectable 3.40 average. He played a dozen games the following season before young Harry Lumley began his Hall of Fame career in earnest. Dion would continue his career in the AHL were he starred mainly with the Buffalo Bisons. He posted a record of 181-129-40, 3.22GAA and 20 shutouts.

Connie Dion's hometown of Asbestos Quebec named an arena after the goaltender. To this day there is a Connie Dion hockey tournament in Asbestos.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The race for The Rocket

Sidney Crosby with 47, and Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos tied with 46 are in heated battle for the Rocket Richard Trophy and the 50 goal plateau. A three-way tie for the goal lead is extremely possible. In 2003/04 Jarome Iginla, Ilya Kovalcuk and Rick Nash finished tied with a mere 41 goals. It will be far more impressive if we have a three-way tie of 50 goals or more. The last time (and only time) that happened was 1979/80.
This is one of my favourite trivia questions, who were the three players to tie for goal lead in Gretzky's rookie year? Of course it was Blaine Stoughton, Danny Gare and Charlie Simmer with 56 each.

As for which of the three leaders this season has the best remaining's a tough call who has the edge. Pittsburgh plays the Islanders and Atlanta twice each and once against Ovie's Caps. Crosby has 3 goals each versus the Isles and Caps but none so far in two games with Atlanta.
Washington has one extra game remaining with two as well against Atlanta (I don't like the Thrashers chances of sneaking into the playoffs), two against Boston and one each with the Pens and Columbus. Against these four teams, Ovechkin has 11 goals in 11 games this season.
Tampa Bay has two left with Florida and one each with Ottawa, Carolina and the Rangers. Versus these teams, Stamkos has 7 goals in 15 games including zero in five against the 'Canes this season.
My money would be on Sid the Kid holding off the other two, and hopefully all three can break through the 50 goal barrier.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

"Connie" Cobb

I just picked up this card on the weekend (I paid handsomely for it) of all-time great Cornelius Irving Cobb. "Connie" Cobb was an innovator of the game of ice hockey. Paired alongside Cyclone Taylor on the Portage Lake club in Houghton, Michigan, he was the first player to perfect the give-and-go spinorama maneuvre.

Born in Hagersville, Ontario in 1879, he was the middle of nine children. He would star for fourteen seasons playing with teams from Renfrew and Pembroke to Mackinaw and Kenora. Along the way he played mentor and team mate to the likes of Taylor, Didier Pitre, Newsy Lalonde and Reg Noble. Cobb was not only speedy and shifty, he was also a moose on blades. In an era when a player 5 foot, 10 inches in height was considered tall, Cobb stood a full four inches clear of six feet and weighed in excess of 220 pounds. He was Eric Lindros of the early 1900's.

His strength was so great that he is reputed to have displayed it once in a most unusual way. Apparently, deep into the cold December of 1909, the Renfrew Creamery Kings were travelling the rails on the way to Haileybury for a league match. As the train rounded a slow bend, the engineer was able to bring it to a halt when he saw a mound on the track up ahead. The jolt of the stopping train rustled it's groggy passengers from a late night slumber. First on the scene at the front of the train was Connie Cobb.

To the dismay of all, a lost heifer had decided to take refuge on the rails in the path of the soon to be late Creamery Kings. After about twenty minutes of trying to shoo the sleeping bovine, Cobb decided to take matters into his own hands...literally. The behemoth hockey star knelt beside the stubborn cow and managed to get his bulky arms underneath. Like a giant sack of grain, he slung the old milk maiden over his shoulder. As he shuffled down the slight incline from the railbed and placed the cow into the shrubbery, a great cheer went out from all who witnessed. The Creamery Kings were on their way and not a moment too soon. They arrived ten minutes before game time and wound up beating Haileybury 7-5 with Cobb netting four goals.

Truly one of the greats of all time, Cobb was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1945 alongside the likes of Georges Vezina, Frank McGee and Howie Morenz.

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