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Numbers: Original Six domination of standings a rarity

by John Kreiser

They are celebrated as the Original Six -- the half-dozen NHL clubs that pre-date the 1967 expansion and hearken back to a different era. But not since the early days of expansion have the Original Six been on track to be as dominant as they've been this season.

Entering this weekend, four of the top five teams in the NHL standings are members of the Original Six. Detroit, a 3-2 shootout winner at Phoenix on Thursday, is first with 63 points, one ahead of a group of three teams that includes the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks, and two points in front of the Boston Bruins -- who have played only 44 games, fewer than any team in the NHL. Only the St. Louis Blues, the other team in the three-way tie with 62 points, breaks up the Original Six party.

How unusual is it to have the Original Six so heavily represented among the NHL's elite? Very.

None of the Original Six was among the top five in the overall standings last season, and the third-place Chicago Blackhawks were the only top-five entrant in 2009-10. Two Original Six teams (Detroit and Chicago) were in the top five in 2008-09, with Chicago sixth, but not since 2003-04 were as many as three of the Original Six among the top five -- and not since 2001-02 have Original Six teams finished 1-2-3.

And how long has it been since four Original Six teams ended the season in the top five? Try 1973-74, when Boston was first in a 16-team League, followed by Philadelphia, Chicago, Montreal and the Rangers.


First half produces some interesting stats

By John Kreiser - Columnist
Take a look at some interesting stats for the first half of 2011-12. READ MORE ›
Home shootout headaches -- Given their success in shootouts, it would be hard to blame any road team if it decided to play for the tiebreaker by not pressing the issue in overtime.

For the sixth season in a row, road teams are winning more than half of the shootouts. Through Thursday's games, there had been 86 shootouts, and visiting teams had won 50 of them, a .581 winning percentage -- actually down from their .611 percentage last season.

The only time home teams have won more than half of the shootouts was 2005-06, the first year of the tiebreaker -- when, by rule, the home teams had to shoot last. Since then, the winning percentage of home teams has ranged from .495 in 2009-10 to last season's .389 and this season's .419.

Though the vast majority of home teams opt to shoot first, as a strategy it doesn't work. Home teams that opt to shoot first this season are 31-40, a .437 winning percentage; they were at .402 last season.

The home numbers would be worse if it weren't for the San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils.

San Jose's shootout win Tuesday against Calgary gave the Sharks a 4-0 shootout record at home, the best in the NHL. Colorado has won all three of its home shootouts, while the Devils are 4-1 at Prudential Center -- meaning that three teams have 11 of the 36 wins by home teams.

At the opposite end of the shootout spectrum are the Montreal Canadiens, who've lost all five tiebreakers at home this season. Carolina and Vancouver are both 0-3 at home.

Streak shooter -- James Neal's career numbers show him to be slightly above average in the shootout; he's 10-for-27 (37.0 percent; the League average in the six-plus seasons of the shootout is slightly below 33 percent).  But his performance in the tiebreaker can be broken down into three very distinct phases.

Neal went 5-for-7 as a rookie with the Dallas Stars in 2008-09, making him one of the NHL's best in the shootout. Then his scoring touch disappeared -- he missed 12 consecutive tries, two short of the most in shootout history, with the Stars before being traded to Pittsburgh last February.

Maybe it was the change of scenery, but Neal's shootout touch returned as soon as he put on a Penguins sweater. His game-deciding goal in Tuesday's 2-1 win against Carolina was his fifth in eight tries with Pittsburgh, including 2-for-4 this season.

Back-to-back blues -- The Jets have done a lot of good things in their first season in Winnipeg, but playing in back-to-back games isn’t one of them.

The Jets had another pair of back-to-back games this week, and while they were excellent in Monday's 2-0 win at Ottawa, they laid an egg the next night in New Jersey, losing 5-1 and putting little pressure on Martin Brodeur.

The win in Ottawa gave the Jets a 4-1-2 record in the front end of back-to-backs, but the loss at New Jersey dropped them to 0-7-0 in the second half.

Luckily for the Jets, they had a day of rest before Buffalo came to the MTS Centre on Thursday night, and it was the Sabres' turn to have played the night before. The Jets' 4-1 victory improved their record to 7-0-0 in home games when the opponent was playing the second half of a back-to-back.

Martin Brodeur
Goalie - NJD
RECORD: 14-11-1
GAA: 2.83 | SVP: 0.895
Can't finish one off -- Thursday marked the eighth time this season that New Jersey's Martin Brodeur entered the third period 20 minutes away from his 117th career shutout -- and the eighth time he didn't get it.

Brodeur and the Devils blanked Boston through 40 minutes, but he allowed three goals to the Bruins in the first 7:45 of the third period as the Bruins left Newark with a 4-1 victory -- and the future Hall of Famer stayed stuck on 116 shutouts.

Thursday's game marked the first time in the eight games in which Brodeur was perfect through 40 minutes the Devils went home empty-handed. They were 6-0-1 in the first seven.

"Nab-bing" some history -- If the New York Islanders decide to put Evgeni Nabokov on the block at the trade deadline, they figure to draw some potential buyers after Nabby's performance in a six-day span.

Nabokov became the 26th goaltender in NHL history to reach the 300-win mark when he led the Islanders to Saturday's 4-2 win against Buffalo. But that was just a warm-up for his play in a three-day span at Washington and Philadelphia.

The 36-year-old then became the first Islanders goaltender in almost 15 years to record a shutout in Washington when he made 17 saves in a 3-0 win Tuesday. The longtime San Jose Shark also became the first NHL goaltender since Jacques Plante in 1963 to have his first 50 (or more) NHL shutouts with one team and then get one with another club.

For an encore, Nabokov helped the Islanders end a 13-game losing streak in Philadelphia by making 40 saves in a 4-1 victory Thursday -- and ending Flyers' goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky's mastery of the Isles in the process. Bobrovsky had won all seven career decisions against the Isles, including a 3-2 win last week, but Nabokov is almost as good against the Flyers; he's now 7-1-2 against Philadelphia, with the lone loss coming last week.
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