The first month of the 2008-09 National Hockey League season was one for the record books.
From the campaign-opening NHL Premiere Series in Prague and Stockholm to attendance records in North America to an increase in goal scoring, fans had plenty of reasons to cheer during the season's first month.
Records were shattered across the board, including October attendance. For the first time in history, the League averaged more than 17,000 people per game in October (17,388) -- an increase of 3.1 percent from 2007.
Despite a 1-3-1 start and the firing of coach Denis Savard
, the Chicago Blackhawks
witnessed the greatest increase in October attendance, which increased by 71 percent. The Washington Capitals
, fresh off a Southeast Division championship, finished second with a 24-percent increase.
Not only was attendance up, but television ratings also experienced an increase, too. Hockey Night in Canada's October schedule of games saw a 12-percent increase in ratings, while TSN's ratings were up five percent.
With the Montreal Canadiens
celebrating their 100th anniversary, RDS ratings skyrocketed this October. When it was all said and done, the French-Canadian network's ratings increased by 23 percent.
VERSUS, the League's cable network in the United States, also saw a boost in ratings, which increased by 5 percent as opposed to October of 2007. Of the 30 NHL teams, 21 had local ratings that were up from, or on par with, a year ago.
Television wasn't the only outlet that hockey-crazed fans flocked to. NHL.com, which was re-launched just in time for the 2008-09 season, experienced a 7-percent increase in unique visitors despite six fewer regular-season days from last year. Sales of NHL-licensed product on NHL.com for October 2008 increased by 26 percent compared to the same period last year.
NHL GameCenter Live, the League's new interface for watching NHL games live online, can certainly be labeled a smashing success. Fans cheered its innovation, as the League increased its subscriber base nearly 270 percent year-over-year.
For the extra fans who tuned in during the month of October, they had the chance to see plenty of goals. The 149 games in October averaged 5.9 goals per game, up 3 percent from the 5.7 of last October. Even-strength tallies were up as well, as the 588 goals represented a 6-percent increase from 555.
Not only did fans see more goals, but they saw more than their fair share of nail-biters, as the number of overtime games in October doubled from a year ago. Of the 149 games, 40 required overtime or shootout to determine a winner, compared to just 21 from a year ago. Twenty-one games were decided in a shootout -- up 91 percent from the 11 shootout games last October.
Of the 149 games, 70 saw lead changes -- up 25 percent from the 56 last year. There were 14 third-period comebacks during the October schedule, a whopping 75-percent increase.
As for the 30 teams, several are off to impressive starts. The New York Rangers, who faced the Tampa Bay Lightning in Prague, lead both the Atlantic Division and the NHL with 21 points (10-3-1). Right behind the Blueshirts are the San Jose Sharks, who are flourishing under new coach Todd McLellan. San Jose has won 10 of its first 12 games and has built a five-point lead on the Anaheim Ducks in the Pacific Division.
There were individual achievements in October, as well. Tim Thomas became the first Boston Bruins goaltender with consecutive shutouts since Byron Dafoe accomplished the feat in 1999. Thomas also became just the second goaltender in NHL history to record consecutive 1-0 shutouts.
On Oct. 29, Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf became just the third player in the last 11 years to notch 5 assists in one game and assist on every goal scored by his team in that contest, joining Alexandre Picard (2007) and Doug Gilmour (1997). In that same game, teammate Teemu Selanne notched his 21st career hat trick, the second-most among European players. Jari Kurri has 23.
Speaking of hat tricks, Dallas Stars forward Fabian Brunnstrom became just the third rookie in NHL history to score 3 goals in his first game in a 6-4 win against the Nashville Predators on Oct. 15. Alex Smart scored 3 times in his debut for Montreal in 1943, and Real Cloutier matched the feat with the Quebec Nordiques in 1979.
Not lost in the shuffle was the play of Ottawa Senators defenseman Filip Kuba, who became the first defenseman in NHL history to notch an assist in each of his team's first eight games. The record was initially set by Boston's Brad Park, who had 7 in 1981.