Analyzing the Best Team Starts in NHL History

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IMarch 5, 2013

Analyzing the Best Team Starts in NHL History

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    The Chicago Blackhawks have at least one point in each of their first 23 games this season, the fastest start in NHL history.

    With Chicago's incredible early success, let's take a look back at the teams who broke out of the gate in impressive fashion early in the season.

    Not all of these teams were unbeaten for all of their early success, although many of them were. Some of them went on to win the Stanley Cup while others fizzled after their torrid start and were eliminated early in the postseason.

    Here is a look at the teams with the fastest starts ever in the NHL, including some of the players that helped make that early season success possible.

1943-44 Montreal Canadiens

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    Quick Start: 11-0-3

    Final Record: 38-5-7

    Playoff Result: Defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0 to win the Stanley Cup

    How good were the 1943-44 Montreal Canadiens? In a 50-game season, they lost only five times on their way to another title. They also had the NHL's first ever 50-goal scorer in Maurice "Rocket" Richard.

    The Habs opened the season on an 11-0-3 tear, outscoring opponents 65-27, including a 13-goal game in an easy win over the Bruins at the Montreal Forum.

    In the playoffs, the Canadiens dropped their opening game against Toronto before winning the next four to eliminate the Leafs in the semifinals. Then they went out and swept the Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup, outscoring Chicago 16-8 in the final series. 

    Leaders on this team included Maurice Richard, Toe Blake, Buddy O'Connor, Elmer Lach and Bill Durnan.

1972-73 Montreal Canadiens

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    Quick Start: 9-0-4

    Final Record: 52-10-16

    Playoff Result: Defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 to win the Stanley Cup

    The Montreal Canadiens were the dominant NHL team in the 1970s, winning Stanley Cups in 1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979.

    The 1972-73 edition got off to a very fast start, going 9-0-4 in their first 13 games. Three of those nine wins came via shutout including a 7-0 trouncing of the Blues at the Forum. During the opening unbeaten streak, Montreal outscored their opponents 53-19.

    The Habs finished first in the Eastern Division, 13 points ahead of the second-place Bruins. Montreal defeated the Buffalo Sabres in six games in the opening round before easily handling the Flyers in five games in the semifinals. In the Final, the Canadiens defeated the Blackhawks in six games to win the 18th Stanley Cup in their storied history.

    This Montreal team was led by Yvan Cournoyer, Henri Richard, Guy Lapointe, Serve Savard, Ken Dryden, Jacques Lemaire and a young Guy Lafleur.

1983-84 Edmonton Oilers

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    Quick Start: 7-1-1

    Final Record: 57-18-5

    Playoff Result: Defeated the New York Islanders 4-1 to win the Stanley Cup

    The Edmonton Oilers dynasty got underway in 1983-84 when Gretzky's bunch became the first former WHA franchise to win the Stanley Cup.

    The Oilers won their first seven games of the season, had a brief 0-2-1 slump and then won eight straight for a 15-2-1 start to the season. The Oilers never looked back and won the Smythe Division, the Campbell Conference and the Stanley Cup. In the process, the high-flying Oilers set an NHL record for most goals scored in a season.

    In the playoffs, the Oilers swept the Jets in three games in the opening round and followed that up with a win in a thrilling seven-game series against the Flames in "The Battle of Alberta." The Oilers then swept the Minnesota North Stars and faced the Islanders in a Stanley Cup Final rematch from the previous year. This time, the Oilers got the best of the Islanders who saw their streak of 19 straight playoff series win come to an end.

    Besides Wayne Gretzky, other prominent Oilers included Paul Coffey, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Ken Linseman, Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog.

1984-85 Edmonton Oilers

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    Quick Start: 12-0-3

    Final Record: 49-20-11

    Playoff Result: Defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 to win the Stanley Cup

    The 1984-85 Oilers started even stronger than the previous season, going 12-0-3 in their first 15 games, then an NHL record to open a campaign. During the streak, the explosive Oilers scored nine goals in a game once, eight goals in a game twice and seven goals four times. Overall, they outscored opponents 81-37.

    The Oilers swept the Kings and Jets to get out of the Smythe Division in just seven playoff games, and then downed the Blackhawks in six games in the third round. The Philadelphia Flyers were the Oilers opponents in the Final but after losing the opening game of the series 4-1, the Oilers stormed back to win the next four games and their second straight Stanley Cup.

    Wayne Gretzky scored 73 goals in 80 games that season and finished with 208 points. Jari Kurri scored 71 goals, while Mike Krushelnyski and Glenn Anderson had 43 goals and 42 goals respectively.

    Gretzky also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP with 47 points in just 18 postseason games.

1993-94 Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Quick Start: 12-1-3

    Final Record: 43-29-12

    Playoff Result: Lost Conference Final to Vancouver 4-1

    The 1993-94 Maple Leafs got off to a great start, winning their first 10 games by a combined score of 45-19.

    After losing their first game of the season in Montreal, the Leafs went on to go unbeaten in their next five games (2-0-3) for a 12-1-3 start to the season.

    Eventually, Toronto finished second in the Central Division, two points behind the Red Wings.

    In the playoffs, the Leafs reached the conference finals before falling in five games to the Canucks.

    Leaders on this team included Doug Gilmour, Felix Potvin, Wendel Clark and Dave Andreychuk.

1994-95 Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Quick Start: 12-0-1

    Final Record: 29-16-3

    Playoff Result: Lost to the New Jersey Devils 4-1 in the second round.

    Mario Lemieux did not play that season, but the Pens still had Jaromir Jagr, Luc Robitaille, Larry Murphy, Joe Mullen and Ron Francis to provide a solid attack.

    The Pens got off to a flying start, earning a point in each of their first 13 games (12-0-1) and outscoring opponents by a 61-37 margin.

    Unfortunately for the Penguins, the magic didn't last. After the fast start, the Pens finished 17-16-2 the rest of the way during the 48-game lockout-shortened season. They finished second in the Northeast Division, five points behind the first-place Quebec Nordiques.

    In the playoffs, Pittsburgh met the Washington Capitals in the opening round and quickly fell behind 3-1 in the series before winning the final three games to advance to the second round.

    The Penguins beat the New Jersey Devils in the first game of the next series before losing the next four games and being eliminated. It was a disappointing finish to a season that had started with such promise.

2001-02 Detroit Red Wings

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    Quick Start: 8-1-0

    Final Record: 51-17-14

    Playoff Result: Defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 to win the Stanley Cup

    The 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings may have been the most talented hockey team ever to take the ice. The team won the President's Trophy with 116 points and went on to win a championship.

    The amazing thing is when you look up and down their roster and see great names like Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Brett Hull, Dominik Hasek, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Sergei Fedorov, Luc Robitaille and a rookie named Pavel Datsyuk. Their coach that year was arguably the best ever in NHL history in Scotty Bowman.

    The Wings got off to a quick start and never looked back. They were 8-1-0 to open the season and were 12-2-0 in their first 14 games. Their only two losses in this opening stretch were at home to Calgary and Dallas. They outscored opponents 48-33 in the first 14 games and three of their wins came in overtime.

    The Ducks won the Central Division and went on a playoff roll. They beat Vancouver in six games in the opening round before dispensing St. Louis in only five games. In the Western Conference Finals, Detroit won a legendary seven-game battle with the Avalanche which saw Hasek blank the Avs 7-0 in the seventh and deciding game. The five-game series win over the Hurricanes to win the Stanley Cup was almost anticlimactic after that.

    The Wings had another successful season in 2002-03 with 110 points, but they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

2006-07 Buffalo Sabres

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    Quick Start: 15-1-1

    Final Record: 53-22-7

    Playoff Result: Lost Conference Final to Ottawa Senators 4-1

    The 2006-07 Sabres went 11-0-1 to open the season, although three of their wins and their first loss all came in shootouts. Buffalo outscored their opponents 58-32. After 17 games, the Sabres were 15-1-1.

    The Sabres won their division and finished the season with 113 points.

    In the playoffs, Buffalo reached the conference finals before falling in five games to the Senators, who finished behind them in their division that season.

    Leaders on this team included Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Chris Drury, Daniel Briere and Jason Pominville.

2006-07 Anaheim Ducks

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    Quick Start: 12-0-4

    Final Record: 48-20-14

    Playoff Result: Defeated the Ottawa Senators 4-1 to win the Stanley Cup

    The 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks were no longer "Mighty," but they went on to win the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup.

    They started the season with a 16-game unbeaten string (12-0-4) during which they outscored their opponents 59-37. The fast start was filled with interesting games: three shootout losses and an overtime loss to go along with two shootout victories, an overtime triumph and three shutouts.

    The Ducks won the Pacific Division and had the second seed overall in the Western Conference. They easily downed the Wild in five games in the opening round of the playoffs, followed by a 4-1 win over the Canucks in the second round. The Red Wings were their most competitive opponent, forcing the Western Conference Final to go six games. In the Stanley Cup Final, the Ducks beat the Ottawa Senators in five contests to clinch the championship.

    Leaders on this team included the Niedermayer brothers, Scott and Rob, Teemu Selanne, Chris Pronger, Andy McDonald and goalie J.S. Giguere.

2007-08 Ottawa Senators

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    Quick Start: 13-1-0

    Final Record: 43-31-8

    Playoff Result: Lost Opening Round to Pittsburgh Penguins 4-0

    The 2007-08 Senators were coming off an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final the previous season and got off to a red hot start, winning their first five games of the season and going 13-1-0 in their first 14 contests. Ottawa outscored their opponents 50-26.

    Unfortunately, the Sens faded after a quick start and coach John Paddock was let go in February, to be replaced by GM Bryan Murray. Ottawa limped home to finish seventh in the Eastern Conference and barely qualified for the postseason.

    In the playoffs, the Senators were swept in the opening round of the playoffs by the Penguins.

    Leaders on this team included the big line of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, goalie Martin Gerber and Wade Redden.

2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks

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    Quick Start: 20-0-3 (present)

    Final Record: TBD (48-game season)

    Playoff Result: TBD

    The 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks are off to the hottest start in NHL history, going unbeaten in their first 23 games of this lockout-shortened NHL season.

    As is often true with teams on this long of a roll, Chicago is getting timely contributions from different players on different nights. For example, starting goalie Corey Crawford has played well but when he went down with an injury, backup Ray Emery stepped up and played at a very high level.

    Key offensive contributions have come from many different sources. In fact, 12 different Blackhawks have already scored at least one game-winning goal for the team this season.

    Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Bryan Bickell are among the many players who have made major contributions to the Hawks early season success.

    How Chicago will fare in the second half of the season and in the playoffs remains to be seen. But for the first 23 games of the season, nobody has ever gotten off to as good a start as this Blackhawks team.