Habs had most fun in NHL's first 50,000 games

Friday, 11.19.2010 / 10:55 AM / Inside the Numbers
By John Kreiser  - Columnist
It's appropriate that Saturday's schedule includes a meeting between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs -- after all, the Habs and the Toronto Arenas (the Leafs' predecessors) played on the NHL's first opening night, Dec. 19, 1917, and they'll meet for the 775th time (704th in the regular season) on the night the NHL plays the 50,000th game (regular season and playoffs) in League history.

The NHL has gone through a variety of cycles since that opening night almost 93 years ago. Offenses have been prolific in some eras (8.17 goals per game in 1943-44; 8.03 in 1981-82), while defenses have dominated in others (4.79 goals per game in 1952-53, 5.14 in 2003-04). Teams have gone from playing as few as 18 games in 1918-19 all the way to 84 (two at neutral sites) during the 1992-93 and 1993-94 seasons, and back down to today's 82. Throughout the "Original Six" era (1942-67), a team could win the Stanley Cup with an eight-game sprint; today, it's a marathon that requires 16 victories and can require a team to play as many as 28 games.

Here are some of the highlights of those first 50,000 games:

Winning Hab-it -- No team has won more often or more consistently than the Canadiens. Though Montreal and Toronto have similar games-played totals -- Saturday's contest will be the 5,794th regular-season game in Canadiens' history and the 5,793rd in the history of the Leafs' franchise (Montreal has played one more game than Toronto this season). The Canadiens have won 3,072 times, while the Leafs own 2,606 wins, including Thursday's 3-1 victory against New Jersey. The Boston Bruins, who entered the season having played 160 fewer games than either the Canadiens or Leafs, are second in regular-season victories with 2,772 after beating Florida 4-0 on Thursday.

Of course, the Canadiens are far ahead of everyone else when it comes to the ultimate prize -- winning the Stanley Cup. They've done it 23 times since 1917; the Leafs are next with 13, though they haven't gotten as far as the Final since their last win in 1967. Montreal's 702 playoff games and 407 victories also are the most of any team.

The Leafs became the first team in NHL history to reach the 2,500-loss mark when they dropped a 2-1 decision to the New York Rangers on Oct. 21.

Filling the net -- Not surprisingly, the Canadiens do this better than anyone else. Despite Thursday's 3-0 loss to Nashville, they enter the weekend with 19,550 regular-season goals -- no other team has reached 19,000. Montreal is one of a dozen NHL teams that have reached the 10,000-goal club (excluding shootouts); the Calgary Flames are poised to become No. 13. The Flames have 9,986 non-shootout goals since entering the NHL as the Atlanta Flames in 1972.

"Kissing your sister" -- That's what the old saying about what a tie is like. But since 2005, the tie has gone the way of the CB radio. Thus, the Canadiens' record of 837 ties is one that's likely to live for the ages. All of the Original Six teams have at least 783 ties -- Toronto has the fewest. Of the teams that entered the NHL after 1967, the Dallas Stars/Minnesota North Stars franchise has the most ties with 459, two more than Philadelphia. The Flyers own the one-season record -- 24 in 1969-70, a season in which they tied the New York Rangers all six times they played them.

Of course, ties have been replaced by the shootout, which guarantees a winner in every game. In all, 828 of the 6,423 regular-season games played since the start of the 2005-06 season have gone to the tiebreaker. Dallas is tops with 41 victories, two more than second-place New Jersey -- and two more than the total number played by the Flames, who are last with 15 wins in their 39 tries. Anaheim's 36 losses are the most by any team.

Almost even -- Not counting overtime and shootout losses for which they earned one point, no team is closer to the .500 mark than the New York Islanders. New York has a 1,287-1,280 record (including its current 11-game losing streak), good for a .501 winning percentage. Washington started the season at 1,215-1,214, but enters the weekend with a 14-4-1 record this season and a 1,229-1,218 all-time record, good for a .502 percentage.

Best of the bests -- Some other highlights:

* Mark Messier played in 1,992 of the first 50,000 games, more than anyone else. Gordie Howe has the regular-season mark with 1,767, 19 more than Messier. But the former Oiler and Rangers star more than made up the difference in the playoffs.

* Messier was part of the five highest-scoring teams in NHL history. The Oilers scored between 401 and 446 goals in the five seasons from 1981-82 to 1985-86, with their record of 446 in 1983-84 untouched for 26 years.

* Of all the records that could last through the next 50,000 games, Doug Jarvis' mark for consecutive games played has to be near the top of the list. Jarvis played 964 in a row from October 1975 to October 1987.

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