Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Complete NHL Regular Season Year in Review

NHL Media Services has provide a great 2000 word piece that brings the entire 2010-2011 NHL regular season into perspective with plenty of accomplishments and headlines from the just completed season.

It begins after the jump. It is guaranteed to spark a few fond memories. Enjoy!

To-The-Wire Playoff Races, Outstanding Performances Highlighted 2010-11 NHL Regular Season
NEW YORK (April 11, 2011) -- It took until the final minute of the final game of the National Hockey League’s 1,230-game regular season to determine the 16th team that qualified for the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs -- in fact, until just 13 seconds remained in that 1,230th game, when an empty-net goal settled matters, giving the Chicago Blackhawks a chance to defend their championship. The entire Western Conference bracket had remained utterly unpredictable until that moment. On the other side of the draw, four Eastern Conference teams were battling for the final three playoff spots until the final weekend.

    From puck drop in North America and Europe in October through the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh on New Year’s Night and the Heritage Classic in Calgary in February through a stretch run as wild as any in memory, the 2010-11 NHL regular season was one for the history books. What follows is a sampling of some of the more remarkable and noteworthy achievements of its thrilling 186 days and nights:

V is for victory -- The Vancouver Canucks did something that only the legendary Montreal Canadiens squads of the late 1970s have been able to do since expansion -- lead the League in most goals scored and fewest goals allowed. Excluding shootout goals, the Canucks were tops in scoring with 258 non-shootout goals (one more than Detroit) and stingiest in allowing goals with 180.

The Canucks barely missed becoming the first team since the 1984-85 New York Islanders to lead the League in power-play percentage and penalty-killing. Vancouver's power play was the best in the NHL at 24.3 percent, and the Canucks were third on the penalty kill at 85.6 percent – barely behind Pittsburgh's League-leading figure of 86.1.

O Brother, where art thou – For the second straight season, a Sedin born on Sept. 26, 1980, won the NHL scoring championship – just not the same one. One year after Vancouver's Henrik Sedin led the NHL in points, twin brother Daniel topped all scorers with 104 points, five more than Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis. The Sedins are the first brothers to follow one another as scoring champions, and the first twins to top the League in points. They could also become the first brothers to win the Hart Trophy – Henrik was the NHL’s most valuable player last season; Daniel has a good chance to take home the award in June.

Tim Terrific -- Tim Thomas started the season as the No. 2 goaltender for the Boston Bruins. He ended it as the most successful stopper in NHL history. The 2008-09 Vezina Trophy winner didn't get the call in the Bruins' opener against Phoenix in Prague on Oct. 9. But after a 5-2 loss, he got the call a day later and delivered a 3-0 shutout. Thomas spent the rest of the season as the Bruins' No 1 goaltender, and finished the season with a 31-save performance against Ottawa on Saturday -- giving him an NHL-record .938 save percentage, .001 better than the mark set by Dominik Hasek in 1997-98.

Life begins at 40 -- Teemu Selanne and Nicklas Lidstrom are proof that age isn't a barrier to greatness.

Selanne, who turns 41 in July, became only the third player to average more than a point a game (80 in 73 games) after his 40th birthday, helping the Anaheim Ducks on a late run that put them into the playoffs. Appropriately, it was Selanne who scored both goals in Friday's 2-1 victory against Los Angeles that clinched the postseason berth -- he had saved the Ducks' season in March by setting an NHL record with four game-tying goals in the final minute of regulation, all in games the Ducks won in overtime.

Lidstrom will turn 41 during the first round of the playoffs later this month -- and like Selanne, shows little indication that his game is slipping. Detroit's captain had his best offensive season since 2007-08 with 62 points, including 16 goals.

Jon be nimble, Jon be Quick -- Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick simply refused to lose in the tiebreaker. Quick was a perfect 10-0 in shootouts this season, matching the most shootout wins by a goaltender in one season and equaling Mathieu Garon's 10-0 mark in 2007-08. One reason for Quick's perfect record was the sharpshooting of teammate Jarret Stoll, who scored nine times in 10 tries -- the best success ratio by any player with 10 or more attempts in the six-year history of the shootout.

Mighty Michael -- No player in recent years had scored more than 19 goals in a season in which he was claimed on waivers, so the New York Islanders couldn't have had any huge expectations when they claimed Michael Grabner on waivers from Florida just before the start of the season. Six months later, Grabner has turned into one of the most dangerous players in the NHL. His 34 goals are more than any Islanders rookie in franchise history not named Mike Bossy and were tops among all first-year players this season. The last first-year players with more were Alex Ovechkin (52) and Sidney Crosby (39) in 2005-06.

Grabner also finished second in the NHL in shorthanded goals with six, one behind linemate Frans Nielsen -- the two quickly became the most dangerous pair of penalty-killers in the NHL.

Different path, same result -- The Washington Capitals were the top club in the Eastern Conference for the second consecutive year but there were notable statistical differences over the Presidents' Trophy-winning season of 2009-10. Their goals-against improved (fourth in the NHL at 2.33, compared to last year's #16 ranking, 2.77) and their goal production dropped (19th, 2.67 this season compared to 1st, 3.82 in 2009-10).

Always be closing – Coaches always talk about the importance of closing out a game – being able to make sure that late-game leads turn into two points. No team was better at it than the New York Rangers. The Rangers took a lead into the third period 29 times this season – and came out with a win all 29 times. They were the only team in the NHL not to lose a point when leading after 40 minutes.

O from D – Byfuglien, who was returned to the blue line by Atlanta after the Thrashers got him from Chicago during the summer, found the net with 20 of his shots, more than any other defenseman. But Anaheim's Lubomir Visnovsky, who flew under the radar for most of the season, wound up tops among defensemen in assists (50) and points (68).

But perhaps more impressive than the accomplishments of Byfuglien and Visnovsky was the season out up by Nicklas Lidstrom. Detroit's captain was tied for third in goals (16) and second in points (62) – superb numbers for anyone, but off the charts for a player who will turn 41 during the first round of the playoffs.

California dreamin'– The Stanley Cup Playoffs will have a heavy California presence. For the first time in history, all three California teams will be in the tournament, with the San Jose Sharks finishing second in the West, Anaheim coming in fourth and Los Angeles finishing seventh – setting them up for a matchup with the Sharks.

Shark attack -- Goaltender Antti Niemi helped rally the San Jose Sharks from a mid-season slump to their fourth consecutive Pacific Division title. Niemi started 34 consecutive games from Jan. 15 through April 4, going 25-4-4 with a 2.05 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.

Sweep dreams – The Philadelphia Flyers, the Atlantic Division champions, won all six games against the New York Islanders this season; Pittsburgh, which had the same number of points as the Flyers, went 4-1-1.

But the most dominant team vs. team performance belongs to the Minnesota Wild, which won all six of its games against Edmonton by two goals or more. The three home victories give the Wild 16 in a row against Edmonton at the Xcel Energy Center. That’s the second-longest current home streak by one team against another: Nashville's 4-1 victory against Columbus on Friday was its 17th in a row against the Blue Jackets at Bridgestone Arena.

The Blueshirts were no slouches at coming from behind, either. New York was tied for second in the NHL with eight wins and 20 points in games in which it trailed entering the final period.

Ouch! – Minnesota forward Cal Clutterbuck retained his title as the NHL’s busiest hitter: he was credited with 336 hits, 27 more than runner-up Tuomo Ruutu of Carolina (and 18 more than his League-leading total last season). L.A.'s Dustin Brown, the last player prior to Clutterbuck to lead the League in hits, was third with 300. Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi earned his bruises by leading the NHL with 236 blocked shots. Both players contributed offensively as well. Clutterbuck had career-highs with 19 goals and 33 points, while Girardi scored 4 goals and led Rangers defensemen with 31 points.

They work hard for the money – Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith was among the 92 players who played in all 82 games (Buffalo's Brad Boyes and Dallas' Alex Goligoski actually played in 83 due to midseason trades), he saw more ice time than anyone – averaging 26:53 per game, 29 seconds more than San Jose's Dan Boyle (who missed six games with injuries).

Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward led all goaltenders in appearances (74, two more than Montreal's Carey Price) and minutes played (4,318, 112 more than Price). Ward was also the runaway leader in shots against (2,375) and saves (2,191), leading Price by more than 200 in both categories.

High-rollers club ­– Anaheim's Corey Perry had 31 goals through Anaheim's first 66 games, then scored 19 times in the Ducks' final 16 contests to pass early-season sensation Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay (45) for the League lead. He capped his amazing run by getting Nos. 48, 49 and 50 against San Jose on April 6, capping one of the great four-week spurts in NHL history.

Perry was one of five players to reach 40 goals; Vancouver was the only team to have more than one -- Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kessler, who went from 25 goals a year ago. Calgary's Jarome Iginla finished with 43, giving him four seasons with 40 or more goals and 10 in a row with 30-plus goals.

Though Vancouver's Henrik Sedin didn't repeat as the League's scoring leader, he did finish first again in assists with 75. He's a big reason twin brother Daniel's 41 goals included a League-high 18 on the power play.

Amazing but true – The Edmonton Oilers were the only team in the NHL that went the entire season without allowing a goal while playing down two men. In fact, the Oilers were the first team to do so since the 2003-04 New Jersey Devils. Each of the other 29 teams allowed at least three goals while playing 3-on-5.

Electrifying revival -- After finishing the first half of the season with a League-worst 10-29-2 record, the New Jersey Devils staged a second-half revival that gave Devils fans hopes for a miracle finish. Under recently-appointed head coach Jacques Lemaire, the Devils went on a 23-3-2 tear to start the second half in the most dramatic turnaround in NHL history.

Kid stuff – Carolina's Jeff Skinner, who doesn't turn 19 until May 16, played all 82 games and led all first-year players in scoring with 63 points, including 31 goals. Rookie goaltender Corey Crawford led the Chicago Blackhawks to the playoffs with 33 wins and a 2.30 goals-against average, while Sergei Bobrovsky went 28-13-8 with a 2.59 GAA for Philadelphia. Crawford won the No. 1 job in Chicago after spending most of five seasons in the minors, while Bobrovsky came to Philadelphia as an undrafted free agent after spending four seasons in Russia. Two other rookies also won 20 games -- Michael Neuvirth (27) for Washington and James Reimer (20) for Toronto.

More Later...

Buddy Oakes for PredsOntheGlass

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