What exactly was it? It wasn’t a winning streak. It wasn’t even an unbeaten streak.
The Chicago Blackhawks recorded at least a point in each of their opening 24 games of the abbreviated 2013 season, an NHL record. Their streak was finally halted on the road in Denver, March 8, by the Colorado Avalanche.
Although the Blackhawks should be congratulated for their outstanding start, the fact is they lost three times over that 21-0-3 stretch. If a baseball team opens a season by winning 12 games in a row, then loses a game in 12 innings, and proceeds to win another 12 games in a row, we don’t applaud them for opening the season by going 25 games without a defeat in a regulation nine-innings. We say they opened with 12 wins. Once they lost, the streak was over, and they started another 12-game winning streak.
The Hawks benefited from an overtime system that should be revised. For a long time there was no overtime in hockey, and each team was awarded one point if there was a tie after the regulation three 20-minute periods. Then the NHL went to a five-minute sudden-death overtime session if the teams were tied after regulation. However, the teams could be cautious about risking losing a point and might not exert themselves in overtime, so hockey decided to issue both teams a point to encourage them to try to win the game and earn a second point. This made sense at the time. But later hockey added the shootout if neither team scored during the five-minute overtime period. This meant someone would gain the extra point anyway and no game would end in a tie. Once the shootout was implemented, the idea of awarding both teams a point as an incentive to go all out to score during the four-on-four five minutes of overtime was no longer necessary. Teams could now still be cautious in the five-minute overtime if they thought they had a better chance in the shootout.
Awarding the one point to each team no longer makes sense. Each game should be worth two points. If you lose in overtime or in the shootout you should walk away with nothing. Having overtime games result in three points being split between the two teams, and having a column for overtime losses, is absurd.
Had the Blackhawks gone on to match or break the Philadelphia Flyers 1979-80 league record 35-game unbeaten streak, how would those two marks have been compared? The Flyers’ streak included 25 wins and 10 ties, but it occurred before the NHL implemented an overtime system to break ties. Had the Flyers had to play overtime, certainly the percentages would dictate that some of those 10 ties would have resulted in overtime losses. But there’s no way to know for sure. What is for sure is the Flyers, under the system then in place, were undefeated over their streak, and the Blackhawks were not.
After the lockout, the NHL needed some feel-good story to rally the troops around, and the Blackhawks torrid start certainly was just what the doctor ordered to treat the lockout blahs. However, the flaw in the Hawks’ streak is that they lost three games.