EP Rinkside 3 Stars: About that time
Well, it's official.
I have now seen my first "if the playoffs started today" post of the season. Damn, this team would be playing that team? Are you serious? That's CRAZY!
Hey man, can I ask you a question? I know you said earlier that would be the matchup if the playoffs started today, so I have to wonder, when do the playoffs actually start? April 22, you say? Okay and what day is it today? Must be, like, April 21 or something. What? It's January 18. Huh. Hmm.
I feel like… maybe I'm wrong. But I feel like that's 94 days. Kind of a lot, now that I think about it. How many days that is, is kind of a lot.
So why are you acting like anyone should care at all for any reason what the standings look like right now, today, more than three months before the playoffs start? Hey man, what would the playoff matchups look like if they started last Tuesday? What about two Mondays from now? How about this day in 1978?
Multiple teams in a playoff position right now still have 40 games left to play. Enough of this! So many people seem to love and truly engage with this stuff, though. I get why people talk up these potential first-round matches, because rubes will reply like "Whoa, that's a fun opponent for the Oilers." But I feel like these are also people that catch a glimpse of themselves in the mirror and get mad that there's another person in their bathroom who looks a lot like them.
I don't know if there's a kind of post that pisses me off more. Totally useless information. Not like the kind of fun, cool, useful, interesting stuff I say all the time.
3. Having a nice week for no reason
Very funny run in Buffalo.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen gets three consecutive starts, and only gives up one goal on 70 shots. Wow.
Now, 70 shots isn't really much to give up at all in three games' worth of hockey, so for the Sabres to do that after how their season has gone must feel so, so nice. But because they're the Sabres, there's always an asterisk.
In this case, that asterisk is "We had a goalie play every minute and only give up one goal all week, but we went 2-1-0."
The one goal Luukkonen gave up? It was in a 1-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. No shame in losing to Vancouver this year, but if your goalie stops 22 of 23, you oughta win that game for him. And those two shutouts? They were against the two most abysmal teams in the league, the San Jose Sharks and Chicago. So even those, to a team like the Sabres, probably don't feel as good as they deserve to. Because what's the point? The season is basically over, even though they're gonna make you play another 37 times. How are you gonna get excited about shutting out a team that's so injured they gotta be close to calling up ECHL players, after you shut out a team that's gonna end the season with a negative goal difference in the triple digits?
Like, okay. And this must especially stink for the Sabres boomers I know who are just hoping the team gives the front office an excuse to make a change behind the bench. Two shutout wins after only giving up one goal to a team that came in shooting, ballpark estimate here, 26 percent on the season? That's a moral victory and two literal ones. Which is the opposite of what the fed-up fans are hoping for.
Anyway, Luukkonen led the league in goals saved above expected this week, you won't be shocked to learn. He stopped 7.3 more than he "should have." The entire season before this, he was at just under 1.4. Hey, maybe they can get something for him at the deadline. Lots of teams need goaltending, I've heard.
2. Long runs, big matchups
Appropriately enough, the Edmonton Oilers' current 12-game winning streak is now tied for the 12th-longest in league history.
During this run, they have outscored opponents 47-21, which is a lot to win by. Did this streak include a pair of OT wins and a shootout win? Sure it did. But I cannot begrudge a good team that somehow lost 13 of its first 18 games from taking a night off every once in a while. They are now 20-3-0 since Nov. 24, and although it hasn't always looked super easy (they got off to a slow start against Seattle last night) we're back to that old McDavid-and-Draisaitl feeling of just knowing that there's basically no deficit they can't erase. Spot the opponent a couple goals just to see what happens, it'll all work out just fine.
If the Oilers win again, they will move into the top 10 for all-time streaks, in a five-way tie with last year's New Jersey Devils, two years ago's Florida Panthers, a Philadelphia Flyers team from the '80s and a Boston Bruins team from the early '70s (the latter two do not count due to how fake the league was back then).
And to do it, they gotta beat the suddenly credible Calgary Flames. Their archrival. On the road. Should be a sick game tomorrow night. And if they win, their next two are against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago. Should be smooth sailing to 16 at that point. And the NHL record is 17. They could tie that against the Nashville Predators, for sure, but then to break the record and hit 18, they'd have to beat Vegas.
What's that workout to? Like, maybe a four-to-five percent chance they do it? Maybe less?
The cap-era record is 16, which Columbus set in 2016-17, somehow. That's doable. I dunno about all-time.
1. Hat tricks
No joke, I was literally thinking around 5:30 p.m. last night, "Have there been that many hat tricks in the league this season?" I guess it didn't feel like it. But there were five in the past week alone, including three on Thursday night (two of which needed empty-netters to get there), and that ran the season total to 56. That's about in the ballpark of where things were last season (96), but certainly a little on the stronger side for now. It would take some doing, but the recent record of 102 set a couple years ago is within reach.
And now that you think about it, that number seems absurdly high. In the mid-2010s, the average number was closer to 60 for the entire season, and there were only 56 a decade ago, in 2013-14. Which, coincidentally, you'll recall as the same number the league hit last night, a little more than halfway through the season.
So like the cigarette ad says, we've come a long way, baby.
I'm walking around in mid-January feeling like it's a slow month or something — "only eight in 17 days!" before last night's goalsfest — meanwhile the league only got to seven in all of November 2013. What a time to be a hockey fan.