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Blues duo equal Esposito's single-season mark

by John Kreiser

It took two goalies and 42 years to accomplish what Tony Esposito did by himself in 1969-70 -- pile up 15 shutouts in a season, the modern-day record for zeroes by a goaltender.

The combined 15 shutouts recorded by Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak are the most by an NHL team in a season since Esposito had 15 all by himself for the Chicago Black Hawks (think old school) in 1969-70.

Needless to say, both teams gave their goalies plenty of support. But in the case of Elliott and Halak, most of the support came on the defensive end; Espo got more help from his attackers.

Esposito got 56 goals of support in his 15 shutouts, an average of 3.73 goals per game -- and that includes a scoreless tie against Boston on March 11, 1970. By the standards of his era, he wasn't overworked, facing an average of 28.5 shots in the 15 shutouts. Esposito never faced more than 38 shots or fewer than 21. He faced more than 30 four times.

Jaroslav Halak
Goalie - STL
RECORD: 25-11-7
GAA: 1.92 | SVP: 0.927
In contrast, the Blues have provided their goaltenders with just 36 goals in their 15 shutouts, an average of just 2.4 per game (including a 1-0 shootout loss at Los Angeles last week). But they've more than made up for any offensive shortcomings with their defensive play. Elliott has faced an average of just 23.1 shots in his nine shutouts, with a high of 37, and saw fewer than 20 in three of the nine. Halak has seen an average of 22 shots in his six shutouts and hasn't faced more than 30 in any of them.

There were two divisions and 14 teams -- eight of which made the playoffs -- when Esposito notched his 15 shutouts. Nine of his shutouts came against the other seven playoff teams, including two against Boston, Chicago's closest rival. He had nine at home and six on the road.

The Blues' duo has had six of its shutouts against teams that are out of the playoffs or all but assured of missing the postseason. Just two (one each against Nashville and Vancouver) have come against teams in the top seven in the overall standings. Eleven of the 15 have come at home, including five of Halak's six.

Will 15 shutouts mean a No. 1 seed? -- Esposito's heroics led the Hawks to the NHL's best record, just the second time in the team's history the Hawks finished on top. The Blues hope their goaltending duo can do the same -- St. Louis enters the weekend first in the overall standings, and winning the Presidents' Trophy would mark just the second regular-season title for the Blues.

One area in which St. Louis' two-headed shutout tandem wants to improve on history is playoff results. After Esposito's big regular season, the Hawks won one round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and then were eliminated by Boston in the semifinals. St. Louis, which has never won a Cup, hasn't made the Final since 1970 and was a first-round upset victim in 2000 after winning its only Presidents' Trophy.


East, West in tight race for supremacy

By John Kreiser - Columnist
The West has beaten up on the East in interconference matchups over the past six seasons, but this time it's a tight race entering the home stretch. READ MORE ›
Rangers are ready -- Most teams don't fare all that well in the second game of back-to-backs -- certainly not as well as they do in the first game. Then again, the New York Rangers aren't just any team.

The Rangers completed a back-to-back sweep Wednesday by rallying from a two-goal deficit to win 4-2 in Winnipeg -- one night after a third-period goal gave them a 3-2 win at Minnesota. It was the 14th (and final) set of back-to-backs this season for the Eastern Conference leaders; they finished 9-2-3 in the first game and 10-2-2 in the second, including a 4-2-2 showing on the road. They're also terrific at making the most of the opportunity for a sweep; Wednesday's win gave New York a 7-1-1 mark in the second game of a back-to-back after winning the first game.

New York's success in the second half of back-to-backs is nothing new -- the Rangers were 12-6-0 last season and 9-2-2 in 2009-10, giving them a 31-10-4 mark in Tortorella's three full seasons as coach. One reason for that kind of continued success has been the play of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who won both games this week. It was the 59th time in his seven NHL seasons that Lundqvist has started on consecutive days; after beating Winnipeg, he is 38-14-7 with a 1.84 goals-against average, a .934 save percentage and six shutouts in the second game. He has played in both halves of a back-to-back four times this season, sweeping the last three after losing in overtime to Los Angeles and in a shootout to Anaheim during a pair of season-opening games in Sweden.

Putting them away -- Successful teams are ones that can put games away, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins are superb at putting opponents away when they get the lead.

The Bruins are the only team in the NHL that hasn't lost a point when leading after two periods -- Boston has led after the second period in 30 games this season and won all 30. 

Boston is also perfect when it gets ahead by more than one goal. Tuesday's win gave the Bruins a 36-0-0 record this season in games in which they've led by two or more goals at any point -- including a 15-0-0 mark when scoring the game's first two goals.

Amazingly, Boston has three shutout victories by eight or more goals -- joining the 1973-74 Bruins as the only team to accomplish that feat -- but also has been shut out seven times, the most since 2006-07.

Scott Clemmensen
Goalie - FLA
RECORD: 13-6-5
GAA: 2.71 | SVP: 0.908
Cats' meow -- Montreal has always been a tough place for visiting teams -- unless that team in the Florida Panthers.

The Panthers completed a sweep of their four-game series with a 3-2 shootout win at Bell Centre on Tuesday -- and in the process became the only team to play more than 15 games in Montreal and come away with more than half of the available points. Florida has made 35 visits to Montreal since entering the NHL in 1993 and is 16-11-3-5 (40 points); the Canadiens are 16-13-3-3 (38 points).

One reason for Florida's success against Montreal has been the play of goaltender Scott Clemmensen, who improved to 3-0-0 this season and 6-0-0 lifetime against the Canadiens by winning on Tuesday.

After their sweep this season, the Panthers are 34-24-6-7 all-time against the Canadiens, making them one of two teams with a winning record in the all-time series against Montreal (the Canadiens are 31-31-6-3 against Florida). Buffalo is 116-100-31-6 all-time against the Canadiens, who are 106-104-31-12 against the Sabres.

High five -- The Edmonton Oilers are a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to scoring goals, but when they do score, they often do it in bunches. The Oilers rang up their fourth five-goal period of the season Sunday when they connected five times in a 6-3 win at Columbus. The Oilers own four of the 10 five-goal periods in the NHL this season; Ottawa, which has done it twice, is the only other team to have more than one.

The four big periods have come against just two teams -- the Oilers had two each against Chicago and the Blue Jackets. Sunday's five-goal period was only the second by a road team this season; Ottawa had the other, in Toronto on Oct. 8.

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