The first season of the NHL was a goal-scorer's delight. There were 30 goals scored in the two games played on the League's opening night, Dec. 19, 1917. Eighteen of the 34 regular-season games played had least 10 goals scored; in five of them the winning team hit double figures.
In today's NHL, where about one of every eight games ends with one team unable to score even one goal, numbers like that seem almost unreal. Not surprisingly, it took two months for the new League to have its first shutout.
Not until Feb. 18, 1918, was a goaltender able to stop every shot he faced. It happened when 31-year-old Georges Vezina of the Montreal Canadiens did it in a 9-0 road victory against the Toronto Arenas.
It was appropriate that the first shutout in the new League belonged to Vezina. Known as the "Chicoutimi Cucumber" for his Quebec hometown and his cool demeanor on the ice, Vezina joined the Canadiens, then a member of the National Hockey Association, in 1910-11. By the time the Canadiens moved to the NHL in 1917, Vezina had established himself as the best goalie of his era.
Video: Georges Vezina was ironman goalie for the Canadiens
Vezina was the classic standup goaltender, rarely dropping to the ice even after the new League allowed goalies to do so in order to keep the puck out of the net, something that was against the rules in the NHA. He finished that inaugural season leading all goaltenders in victories with 12; no one else had more than nine. And his goals-against average of 3.93 was well ahead of No. 2 Hap Holmes, at 4.73.
The NHL played a split schedule in its first season, with Montreal winning the first half but losing the League title to Toronto, the second-half winner, in a two-game, total-goals series. Vezina helped Montreal win the NHL title in 1918-19 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final against the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, but the series was called off because of an outbreak of the Spanish flu after the teams had split the first four games.
In 1922-23, Vezina cut his goals-against average to 2.46 (from 3.84 in 1921-22). At age 37 he pared his GAA to 1.97 in 1923-24 and led the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup, then reduced it to 1.81 the following season.
However, Vezina collapsed in the 1925-26 season opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was his 328th consecutive game with the Canadiens, and his last. Vezina was diagnosed with tuberculosis and went home to Chicoutimi, where he died March 27, 1926. He was among the original group enshrined when the Hockey Hall of Fame was established in 1945.
Before the following season, the Canadiens donated a trophy to the NHL in memory of their goaltender; the Vezina Trophy originally was awarded to the goaltender of the team that allowed the fewest goals; it's now given to the goaltender voted as the best in the NHL by the League's general managers. The result has been to keep the name of one of the elite goaltenders alive throughout the first 100 years of the NHL.