The Columbus Blue Jackets just missed equalling the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins’ NHL record of 17 wins, but that record isn’t the NHL’s most unbreakable.
So close. Sixteen consecutive victories. One short of tying the league record. And yet, seeing the Columbus Blue Jackets get blown out by the Washington Capitals Thursday night was a sobering reminder of how hard it is to win 17 straight games in today’s NHL. Parity has reached such a pinnacle that even a seemingly unstoppable powerhouse like Columbus can get shellacked.
The Blue Jackets, though, proved the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins’ record is far from safe. The 2012-13 Pens won 15 straight, too. Teams simply get more opportunities to win games in an era with no ties. It wouldn’t be a massive surprise to see the 17-win record fall someday.
That milestone thus doesn’t crack my picks for the 10 most unbeatable team streaks. Which records do?
10. BLACKHAWKS’ 24-GAME POINT STREAK TO START SEASON
The Hawks’ remarkable early-season run of 21-0-3 looks practically unbeatable but, hey, they accomplished the feat just four years ago in the modern NHL landscape. If they could do it then, another powerhouse has a chance to do it today. The feat would be Herculean, though.
9. FLAMES’ 264 GAMES WITHOUT BEING SHUT OUT
Nov. 12, 1981 to Jan. 9, 1985
The start and stop date of this streak tells you all you need to know. It commenced in 1981-82, a.k.a. the highest-scoring season in modern NHL history, in which each team averaged more than four goals per game. Calgary’s run spanned four seasons which were ranked first, fifth, third and fourth in all-time league-wide offense. Each of the top five shutout-free streaks in NHL history began and finished in the 1980s. The sport has changed too much for anyone to go 264-plus games with at least one goal. Everybody gets blanked once in a while now.
8. BRUINS’ 29 STRAIGHT PLAYOFF APPEARANCES
1967-68 to 1995-96
Ironically, while today’s supreme parity gives everyone a realistic shot at the playoffs every season, it also makes it more difficult for teams to stay on top, as we see so many new contenders emerge each year (see: 2016-17 Columbus Blue Jackets). The Bruins’ record began in a league of 12 teams, eight of which made the playoffs, and finished in 1995-96, when 16 of 26 teams reached the big dance. Any team starting a streak by next year must be in the top 16 of 31 teams. The odds have decreased. This streak lands low on the list merely because the current Detroit Red Wings sit within striking distance at 25 straight playoff berths, though their streak might end this spring.
The next-longest active playoff streak: the Pittsburgh Penguins at just 10 years. Only five teams have streaks five years or longer right now. Detroit, whose streak began in a 21-team league, is the last hope to break Boston’s record.
7. CAPITALS & SHARKS’ 17-GAME LOSING STEAKS
WSH: Feb. to March 26, 1975
SJ: Jan. 4 to Feb. 12, 1993
Why do 17 losses make the list when the Pens’ 17 wins don’t? It’s that parity again. The league is so competitive that I would argue it’s tougher to lose 17 straight games than win 17 straight today. Teams that pitiful don’t exist. Consider that the 1992-93 Sharks won just 11 games all year. In the salary cap era, no team has won fewer than 21 games in a non-shortened season. Only one team failed to win 30 games last season.
6. PENGUINS’ 14-GAME HOME LOSING STREAK
Dec. 31, 2003 to Feb. 22, 2004
It’s hard enough to lose 17 consecutive games today. It’s even harder to do so at home. The NHL still sports the odd laughing-stock franchise but nothing in the vein of pre-lockout nightmare teams like the 2003-04 Penguins, who tore their entire core apart the two seasons prior, laying the foundation for years of high draft slots. The only way this record gets eclipsed is if the Vegas Golden Knights become gambling addicts in their spare time and play their home games after chasing big wins all night long at the MGM Grand craps tables.
5. SENATORS’ 38-GAME ROAD LOSING STREAK
Oct. 10, 1992 to April 3, 1993
The theme of this list should be settling in by now. Parity has eliminated the possibility of most major NHL team streaks. We simply don’t have teams bad enough to lose 38 straight road games anymore.
4. JETS’ 30-GAME WINLESS STREAK
Oct. 19 to Dec. 20, 1980
A 30-game winless streak that includes multiple home dates? Even more impossible to accomplish today than a 38-game road losing streak. Never gonna happen.
3. ISLANDERS’ 19 STRAIGHT PLAYOFF SERIES WINS
1979-80 to 1983-84
The Isles dynasty won four straight Stanley Cups, meaning 16 series victories, and reached the final in their attempt to capture a fifth straight title before passing the torch to the Edmonton Oilers dynasty. Not even Wayne Gretzky’s group could match this streak, as Steve Smith’s own goal in 1986 destroyed what could’ve become five-year Cup run.
We haven’t even seen a team win two consecutive Cups, meaning eight straight series victories, since the Detroit Red Wings did so in 1997 and 1998. That was 19 years ago, and a juggernaut franchise would have to more than double that feat to beat the Isles’ record.
2. CANADIENS’ FIVE STRAIGHT STANLEY CUPS
1955-56 to 1959-60
Five straight Cups in the late 1950s and early 1960s only required 10 straight series victories. Today, winning five in a row requires 20 series wins, which would top the Islanders’ milestone. Five straight Cups trumps 19 straight series wins on simple math.
1. FLYERS’ 35-GAME UNBEATEN STREAK
Oct. 14, 1979 to Jan. 6, 1980
My first draft of his list slotted in the Flyers’ unbeaten streak at third overall, but I revised that ranking after some thinking. First off, the NHL is so competitive today that there are no easy outs. Remember, every team won at least 29 games last season. The 21-0-3 Hawks of 2012-13 had their points streak halted by a Colorado Avalanche team that finished 29th overall and won the draft lottery.
Now imagine doing what Chicago did, but for 35 straight games…except Chicago’s run isn’t even a proper comparison. The 2012-13 Hawks still lost three times during their streak. Philadelphia’s amazing run under Pat Quinn came in an era when games still ended in ties. Ten of the Flyers’ 35 games during that streak were ties, meaning they’d have 10 shots at losing if enjoying that run in today’s NHL.
Also, with no ties today, an unbeaten streak cannot exist. It’s merely a winning streak. Beating the 1979-80 Flyers’ record would mean outright winning 36 consecutive games, which will never, ever happen.
Have any other noteworthy streaks to share, such as the Red Wings’ NHL record of 23 straight home victories? Mention them in the comment section below.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to thn.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin