Despite the recent scoring outburst from Edmonton’s Sam Gagner and the best efforts over the last number of weeks from Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, it doesn’t appear as though we’ll be seeing any scoring records fall during this 2011-2012 NHL regular season. In fact, it’s possible that for the first time since 2003-04 (the last season before the work stoppage and subsequent rule changes to enhance scoring) we won’t have a 50-goal sniper or a 100-point scorer.
Malkin is averaging 1.33 pts per game entering this week, and will need to stay on that pace to hit exactly100 points. Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos is scoring .67 goals per game, and if that pace continues he’ll end up with 54 goals and a second Rocket Richard trophy in the past three seasons.
The writing for this league wide drop in production was on the wall last season, when only Corey Perry of the Ducks hit 50 goals (and not a single goal more); and only Daniel Sedin of the Canucks joined the century club for points, finishing with 104.
Combine that with Sidney Crosby’s long-term absence due to injury, along with many other star players being sidelined at least for short periods of time with various ailments, and we are left to wonder where it’s all heading. Ironically, it’s right in front of another round of CBA talks as the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire this summer.
But enough of that.
What can be celebrated is the goaltending numbers being posted by clearly the league’s elite.
We all knew what type of year Henrik Lundqvist was having for the Rangers before he brought his act to First Niagara Center last week. After witnessing his 1-0 shootout win over the Sabres, how many of you don’t believe he is the favorite to secure his first ever Vezina Trophy? He might even trump the single season save percentage record of .938 posted just last season by Boston’s Tim Thomas.
Like the Rangers tandem of “The King” and Martin Biron, the Blues duo of Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak are both on pace to post goals against averages below 2.00. And with a decent finish over the final two months, Thomas and his crease-mate Tuukka Rask might make it three pairings in the same exclusive club.
But two ‘tenders not yet mentioned are chasing a little history of their own.
The NHL record for most wins in a season is 48, established by all-time wins leader Marty Brodeur of the Devils in 2006-07. Up until last Thursday, there was an extremely good chance that the record was ready to fall. That night Detroit’s Jimmy Howard emerged with a shootout decision over Vancouver, his league leading 32nd win of the season. However, the win was overshadowed by an injury. Howard suffered a fracture in his right index finger (the stick-hand for Howard) leaving his pursuit of history in doubt.
According to the Macomb Daily, Howard was told by medical personnel in Vancouver that the injury might keep him out 4-6 weeks. His response? Two weeks sounds about right. He said he’s played with broken fingers before – although not the index finger – and believes there is no way he’ll be out six weeks. You have to love his competitive spirit. But the reality is, even if he comes back in two weeks, he’ll be hard pressed to match or better 48 wins.
Right now, Howard is winning 73 percent of his starts. Had he remained healthy he likely would have started 25 or 26 of the Red Wings 29 remaining games. If he kept up that pace, he’d have become the first netminder to win 50 games in a season!
Assuming he comes back on his schedule, let’s say February 17, the Wings would have 24 games remaining. Howard would have to start all of them, and win at his current pace, to get the 17 victories required, and leave him with a new record mark of 49.
And while Howard may not be as obsessed with this record as I appear to be, he’s not the only with an outside chance of breaking it.
The runner-up for the Vezina in 2011, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, is in the conversation. Starting this week with 30 wins, and currently winning 64 percent of his starts, Rinne could match Brodeur by doing something very “Marty” like, and that is play in all of the Predators remaining 29 games. Highly unlikely but you never know. Backup Anders Lindback made a rare appearance last week so Rinne should be good to go for at least the next month.
But assuming Rinne plays a logical 26 out of the final 29, his current pace would leave him with 46-47 wins. And when you are that close to the record, you just never know.
What all of this speculation does is simply reinforce the greatest trait of Martin Brodeur’s soon to be Hall of Fame career: his durability.
It takes good fortune and great health to carve out the numbers he has. And in that record setting season of 2006-07, Brodeur played in a career high 78 games.
We’ll see where this quest for the wins record goes in the coming weeks.
I for one have February 17 circled on my schedule, as hopefully Jimmy Howard will be back for the Wings by then and be staring down the ice to see Pekka Rinne at the other end.
May the best man win.