The Evolution of the NHL’s Unbeatable Record
The Evolution of the NHL’s Unbeatable Record
Records may be made to be broken, but it doesn't seem like anyone will be breaking Alex Connell's shutout record from 1927-28 anytime soon. But Connell himself has had the marker changed a few times and it's only making it more difficult on the competition.
By Don Weekes
Records are not only meant to be broken. They deserve to be corrected, too. The longest surviving official NHL record among goalies dates to Hall of Famer Alex Connell, who also went by Alec, who choreographed 461 minutes and 29 seconds of perfect play against marksmen such as Howie Morenz and Frank Boucher in January and February 1928. His shutout standard is one of the game’s true gems — a rock of ages.
Without fanfare, it is among hockey’s most unbeatable records, long overshadowed by the more celebrated marks and gaudy numbers put up by the many superstars who followed Connell, up to and including multiple-record man Martin Brodeur. And no current goalie is likely to seriously challenge Connell’s uninterrupted zero time. However, his indomitable aggregate of 461:29 is due for a reset, recalculated to the correct time after 87 years. There have been a handful of worthy attempts to scale his monster six consecutive shutouts, most notably the out-of-thin-air five straight by modern-day record-holder Brian Boucher. Still, the recently retired Phoenix Coyote goalie only clocked a 332:01 run in 2003–04, compared to Connell’s bounce, which required a jaw-dropping 7.68 hours (461:29) of pipe play — abetted by early rules that allowed for 10 minutes of sudden-death overtime after regulation. And there’s the rub. Connell’s record, while hard to beat, bears a kind of that-was-then-this-is-now stain because it was set in the original dead-puck era, when goose eggs dominated game scores. In 1927–28, goalies racked up 97 in the league’s 220 matches. Similar to shootouts today, the blank had overstayed its welcome. To combat low goal production that season, forward passing was introduced in the defending and neutral zones, and goalie pads were trimmed from 12 to 10 inches. It did little to spur offence in the 10-team circuit. Only 3.84 goals per game were scored that year and Connell netted 15 SOs in Ottawa’s 44-game schedule. In just his fourth NHL year, the right-catcher had stockpiled 50 career shutouts. Connell’s record drive was built on two regulation wins, plus an overtime win and three scoreless ties, each requiring a 10-minute extra period. It is, however, that overtime win, a 1–0 Senators victory against the Montreal Maroons on February 2, that trashes his official 461:29. By how much? Let’s just say Connell is in no danger of losing his title nor is anyone remotely closer to catching him — the next-best all-time total is George Hainsworth’s 343:05. The amount of time it takes to tape the blade of a stick, lace up a skate or ice a fourth liner for one NHL shift is what Connell will lose on the clock: 40 seconds. It’s not much, especially in respect to Connell’s 26,050-minute career total or his unbeaten shutout sequence, which is about two complete games better than either runners-up, Hainsworth and Boucher. But in this day of game analytics, what’s interesting is the number change itself, at least to hockey geeks. In fact, Connell has been dealt several flawed times through the years. According to the Hockey Hall of Fame, his shutout mark wasn’t formally recognized until it first surfaced in the 1949-50 edition of the NHL Official Guide & Record Book, some 20 years after his feat. That year his record six shutouts listed 446:09 of shutout hockey. Then, in the late 1960s and 1970s it was rejigged again (460:09) and again (460:49) until 1976-77 when 461:29 became the official figure. It’s been that number ever since. So what’s wrong with 461:29? Somehow Connell was incorrectly credited with 70 minutes of play in the February 2 game. In fact, after stopping everything though 60 minutes, the Senators’ goalie only played 9:20 of the 10-minute extra session before teammate Hec Kilrea scored the 1–0 OT winner against the Maroons. The league confirmed that Connell’s TOI was 69:20 from game sheets and newspaper reports indicate that the goal ended the match. The long-held assumption that the Senators’ puckstopper played a full 10 minutes of overtime, 40 seconds more than he actually did, also goes against game rules of the day, which enforced a sudden-death provision. It was only in the following season, 1928–29, that the league dropped this model of tie-breaking and introduced a full 10-minute overtime period without sudden-death — something that modern-day statisticians may have overlooked in their calculations of Connell’s 1927–28 record. Interestingly, the correct numbers for his blank stretch have been available for some time. Hockey’s other bible on league play after the NHL guide, Charles L. Coleman’s The Trail of the Stanley Cup, has had it right since it was first published in 1969. Coleman counted correctly — 460:49 — in his own stat box detailing Connell’s streak. Finding something less than perfect in the league’s record book is a little like, well, taking one for the team. It’s not something you want to happen, but it’s important, even an obligation, to make it right. And by the way, Alex, congrats on the 87th anniversary.