FanPost

All-Time Sens Killers: Part Three

This FanPost was written by a member of the Silver Seven community, and does not necessarily reflect the beliefs or opinions of the site managers, editors, or Sports Blogs Nation, Inc.

First off, thanks to everyone for reading these posts. I hope they were informative, interesting, and maybe a little therapeutic. Before I get to the #1 Sens Killer, there’s going to be a few short honourable mentions who didn’t quite make the cut, either from a lack of games played (players who spent most of their career in the Western Conference didn’t see much of Ottawa) or no playoff games against the Senators on their resumé. I’m sure I missed a couple, but what the hell. Feel free to contribute some other candidates in the comments. Part one is here; part two is here.

Here are the honourable mentions:

Tim Thomas

Many speculated that it would be Thomas who appeared at #1 on this list (or at the very least on it). He was definitely a contender for that #5 spots; he’s played extremely well against Ottawa in a few short years. A playoff appearance was all that was preventing him from being a lock on this list, as he’s stymied the Sens repeatedly.

Regular season: 32 GP, 0.937 Sv%

Sergei Gonchar

I’ve always wondered whether teams are more likely to sign as free agents players who play well against them. Gonchar has certainly done some damage to the Senators over the years. His playoff performances against Ottawa were excellent; particularly as a member of the Capitals, where he potted three goals in the semi-finals to send Ottawa packing. Seeing him helm the Pittsburgh power-play three times in four years of post-season action probably gave Murray the idea to sign him.

Regular season: 52 GP, 10 G, 26 A

Playoffs: 20 GP, 5 G, 12 A

Evgeni Malkin

While Mr. Malkin’s performance against Ottawa in the regular season has been better than Crosby’s, he’s also been less dominant than Crosby in the playoffs. Given the way he’s been playing recently, he would be a nightmare to contain should Ottawa and Pittsburgh meet again in the post-season.

Regular season: 22 GP, 15 G, 10 A

Playoffs: 15 GP, 6 G, 13 A

Tom Barasso

While his play against Ottawa was phenomenal, the real reason he’s on this list is because he was what the Senators got for Ron Tugnutt. My heart is still broken.

Regular season: 17 GP, 0.948 Sv%

Mats Sundin

You had to figure he warranted a mention, didn’t you? Although he never really lit it up against the Sens, and was in fact pretty well contained in the playoffs against Ottawa, he was the constant through four humiliating defeats. He brought strength, leadership, and identity to those hated Leafs teams.

Regular season: 70 GP, 24 G, 40 A

Playoffs: 24 GP, 6 G, 9 A

Martin Brodeur

Despite losing two of the three playoff series he played against Ottawa, he was pretty good in all of them. He earns a mention here chiefly because of the sheer amount of games he’s logged against Ottawa (and played well, to boot): 80 in total, nearly double the next nearest goalie. Speaking of whom...

Regular season: 63 GP, 0.916 Sv%

Playoffs: 17 GP, 0.925 Sv%

#1. Dominik Hasek

Lg_hasek_ap_01_medium

via sportsillustrated.cnn.com

Dominik Hasek is the best goalie to ever play in the NHL. He’s probably the best ‘tender to ever play the game.

I suppose this is debatable. It depends whether you value team accomplishments over individual accomplishments, whether you think Conn Smythes are preferable to Harts and Vezinas, or if one thinks wins are the true measure of a goalie (they’re not, but some think this). It is hard to compare the modern era of goalies to those in the expansion and pre-expansion eras, partly because there’s not much in the way of statistics for those years (hell, even basic stuff like even-strength save percentage only goes back to 1998!).

Nevertheless, it’s pretty difficult to look at the stats of any of the top goaltenders and not conclude Hasek was the best of them. In an era of goaltending giants like Roy, Belfour, Brodeur, and Joseph, Hasek handily outplayed them all. Not only was his peak performance vastly superior to any of them, but showed extreme longevity: he remained an elite goalie into his 40s, and has, to my knowledge, the second-longest professional career of any player, ever, after Mr. Hockey himself.

So what happens when the greatest goaltender in the history of the game always plays his best against one particular team? You get the #1 Sens Killer.

It’s not exactly hard to make the case for Hasek as the biggest Sens Killer of all time. Even without resorting to remarks about adductor muscles, the evidence is overwhelming. I was shocked when I realized the full extent of the Dominator’s mastery over Ottawa.

In 46 career games against the Ottawa Senators (39 regular season games, and 7 playoff games), Dominik Hasek faced 1388 shots, and stopped 1319 of them. That’s a save percentage of 0.950. Now, it’s easy to understand that this is high. Very high. What is harder to understand is how that compares to the performance of other players against Ottawa. Point totals and points-per-game are easy to compare, but what is the equivalent of Crosby’s 1.73 PPG against Ottawa in the playoffs in save percentage?

From 1993-94 to 2001-02, when the majority of Hasek’s games against Ottawa were played (he played five games against the Sens outside of these seasons, but they skew the numbers too much), the average save percentage in the NHL was ~0.903. That is to say, players scored on 9.7% of their shots (as opposed to ~8.7% nowadays). So, given Hasek’s 0.950 career save percentage against Ottawa, a shot by a Senators player against an "average" goalie in that era was 94% more likely to go in than a shot against Hasek.

Do you guys remember Jaromir Jagr? Do you remember how I said that he leads all players in regular season scoring against Ottawa with 77 points in 61 games? Well, Dominik Hasek, in just 47 games, was 66 goals above-average. Note that that is not gross production: that is just how many more goals he stopped than the "average" goalie would’ve. Also, those are "pure" goals: no empty-netters, no secondary assists, etc. The total amount Jagr produced against Ottawa was about the amount Hasek was ahead of the competition, in 14 less games.

There may be a serious case to be made that Hasek’s performance versus Ottawa was the best of all-time by one player against a single team. I have no idea how one would compare that, but averaging almost a goal and a half better than the average player at your position is a performance better than, say, Gretzky was doing at his peak. While I’ve weighted playoffs heavier than the regular season throughout this list, the sheer scope of Hasek’s play against Ottawa is enough to vault him to #1.

Hasek’s playoff experience against Ottawa composed of seven games. The first three were in 1996-97, fresh off Hasek’s first Hart win and Ottawa’s first playoff berth. A bizarre string of incidents resulted in Steve Shields finishing the series in place of an injured and subsequently suspended Hasek; however, the Senators fell in the seventh game. It made a little me very sad; I can still remember the puck falling through Tugnutt’s glove. The second playoff showdown with Hasek was even more depressing. The Senators were a newly minted heavyweight, winning their division for the first time, and facing off against a 7th-seed Sabres team. Hasek completely stonewalled the Sens, leading to an embarrassing four-game sweep (not dissimilar to the 2001 series against the Leafs), as the Sabres went on to the Cup Finals. Interesting footnote, largely forgotten by history: Hasek was injured at that time, too. He had injured his groin late in the season, but had to return to playing early in order to keep the Sabres in it. He didn’t even play all of the Sabres’ games that spring: in later rounds, when the Sabres went up a couple games against Philadelphia and Toronto, Dwayne Roloson got several starts in order to let Hasek rest and heal. If CuJo’s infuriating play in 2001 was the best performance the Senator’s ever faced in a playoff series, Hasek in 1999 would be a worthy runner-up (competing with Belfour in 2004).

It’s not really surprising, given Hasek’s record against Ottawa, that the Senators signed him in 2004. I suppose it’s also not that surprising that the media turned on him when he injured himself at the 2006 Olympics. Unlike all the other players on this list (barring one honourable mention), the Senators did get to experience Hasek on their team. And it was fantastic while it lasted: Hasek was the best goalie in the league again (at the age of 41!), and the Senators steamrolled the opposition. It’s a shame, really: that team was clearly the best in the league, and was as sure a lock for the Cup that a team can be outside of the 1970s Canadiens.

As the league and its players moves towards parity, world-beating stars and teams become rarer and rarer. Hasek was the last player to clearly elevate himself above his peers, year after year, and the Senators bore the worst of it. It may very well be that there will never be another Sens Killer like him, and us fans will be the better for it.

Regular season: 39 GP, 0.950 Sv%

Playoffs: 7 GP, 0.952 Sv%

Highlights: There are precious few Hasek vs. Ottawa highlights out there on the web, and almost none from his Buffalo days. So here's a happy memory, and although not directly Senators-related, a much less happy memory.

Thanks for reading.

This FanPost was written by a member of the Silver Seven community, and does not necessarily reflect the beliefs or opinions of the site managers, editors, or Sports Blogs Nation, Inc.

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