Monday, November 17, 2008

Around The Rink

by Bob Herpen
The Phanatic Magazine

We're Going Streaking

On Sunday night, the Flyers extended their win streak over the Atlanta Thrashers to 12 consecutive games with a 4-3 win. In this 30-team league, it's almost impossible to find runs like this between any two clubs.

The last time the orange and black lost to the perching birds was November 18, 2005 in Philadelphia - a game which saw Atlanta rally from a two-goal deficit with two minutes left in regulation and win 6-5 in overtime.

Included in the run is backup goaltender Antero Niittymaki's personal 11-game win streak over the Thrashers, which also encompasses a 10-game run against fellow Finn and Atlanta crease-guard Kari Lehtonen.

Doing him one better is Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood, who holds the longest current streak against one club. His little run against the Tampa Bay Lightning was just extended to 17 in a row. Including last Tuesday's come-from-behind 4-3 road victory, Ozzie has never lost to the Bolts, a perfect 17-0-0 lifetime record.

At one time, the Flyers had quite a few unbeaten runs which lasted decades, mostly revolving around games at the Spectrum. After the infamous incident in January, 1972 where the Blues fought the home fans, the Flyers didn't drop a game to St. Louis until November, 1988 - 34 contests later.

Pittsburgh endured an epic stretch of misery, not earning a win here from January, 1974 until February, 1989, a mind-boggling run of 42 consecutive contests. They did get us back for a while in the mid 90s, but the Flyers also ran off 13 straight home wins over the Pens from March, 1995 until November, 2000.

Another decade-plus long streak came at the expense of the Los Angeles Kings. Philly exited Southern California 21 times from November, 1973 until January, 1985 before they lost a contest at the fabulous Forum.

Those mighty multiple Cup winning Montreal Canadiens set the standard, owning the Detroit Red Wings when both were paired in the Norris Division in the 70s.The Habs, who dominated the NHL from 1973 until 1979, did not allow a Wings win in either city 23 consecutive times (18-0-5) from 1974 to 1978.

Edmonton's Oilers also did a number on the Vancouver Canucks during a three-year stretch in the 1980s. The dynastic offensive machine went unbeaten over the then-doormats of the Smythe Division from March, 1985 through the end ofthe 1987-88 season, a span of 24 games.

News on the streak front is not all good for the home club, though. They have one outstanding blemish which is a 20-year drought in Detroit, the longest in terms of time and in games between two teams in one location currently in the NHL.

November 4, 1988 was the last time the Flyers won at Joe Louis Arena. In a portend of what was to come, the winning goal was scored by Murray Craven late in the third period, as he was hit flush in the face by a stick.

As it stands today, the run of bad luck is 0-13-2 after a 6-3 loss in January, 2006. The last time they managed even a tie on the road was almost 12 years ago. They'll have to wait until St. Patrick's Day to reverse the misfortune.

For Atlanta, its own misfortune may continue twice more this season, on January 21 at the Wachovia Center and February 8 at Philips Arena.

Eating Crow

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman used several media outlets earlier in the month to trumpet the fact that the league showcased an increase in offense.

According to his numbers, as revealed on the NHL Network, goals-per-game in the league stood at 5.9 per contest. That's apparently the best since October,2005.

However, the turnaround was very quick. Each week, the league releases its Three Stars, and for the first full week in November, three goaltenders madethe list: Boston's Tim Thomas, Vancouver's Roberto Luongo and Washington'sBrent Johnson.

That in itself is not the story, but what each did to earn the honor is of note.

Thomas recorded back-to-back shutouts over Edmonton and Vancouver as the B's went on their annual early West Coast trip; Luongo reeled off three straight whitewashes over Nashville, Phoenix, Minnesota and wound up not allowing a goal in over 200 minutes; Johnson posted a goals-against well under two.

Flying in the face of the official numbers from the season's first month are these tidbits: Luongo leads with five shutouts in just 16 starts; There are five goaltenders with GAA's of two or lower - Luongo (1.76), LA's Erik Ersberg (1.95), Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers (1.99), San Jose's Brian Boucher (1.99) and Niklas Backstrom from Minnesota (2.00).

Also, two-thirds of all goaltenders with at least seven starts this year are posting save percentages of .900 or higher, with Thomas at the head of the class at .945.

What Bettman and others who take an optimistic view of the NHL always forget, is that there are so many teams that one can take the same set of statistics and create an entirely alternate view.

Unlike the early going last season and the two prior, no single team has scored more than seven
goals in any one game. Only Atlanta, Buffalo, Calgary and Pittsburgh have reached that total before a shootout.

Through six weeks, just nine clubs (led by Detroit, 3.56) are scoring at a 3.00 goals per game pace or better, with revamped Tampa Bay recording the lowest per game total at 2.01.

Remembering Pelle

On this date 23 years ago, the Flyers won their franchise-record 13th straight game with a 5-4 overtime decision over the New York Islanders. Philly rebounded from a 4-1 deficit in the second period and won when Murray Craven's prayer from behind the goal line deflected off the stick of Isles netminder Billy Smith.

It happened one week after the tragic accident which ended Pelle Lindbergh'slife at age 26.

By now the story behind Pelle's unfortunate end has been passed down among two generations of Flyers fans. The impact he made on those who witnessed games he started is lasting.

Given the fact that his shortened but legendary career never reached its full potential, I think it's a fitting tribute that his jersey remains unofficially retired.

The contest which followed his memorial service on November 14, 1985 was one of the best hockey games I've seen. The Oilers came to town as the second-bestteam in the NHL, and with the best offense. The Flyers on the other hand, were 12-2-0, sported the most points in the league, and put a 10-game win streak on the line.

Two periods flew by with the score tied, 1-1, and rookie Darren Jensen made a handful of great saves in each period. Four Flyers scores, including a pair of early power-play markers, in a wild six-score third period sealed it.

Aside from his performance on the ice, Pelle's legacy can be encapsulated in two simple lessons:

1) Your dreams are always within reach.

2) Don't drink and drive.

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