More tricks and treats in October
As we jump into fall, it's time to look back at the month of October in the NHL.
Scoring was red-hot, particularly with multiple-goal performances. There were 13 hat tricks in October, one trick shy of doubling the amount the NHL had in last season's opening month under the new rules. It was also the most since the 1997-98 season and was tied for the third-most since 1990.
But there is more to examine than just an increase in the number of hat tricks, a rarity in the days of the neutral-zone trap and the clutch-and-grab NHL, which seem like a distant memory. It's the type of hat tricks that happened in October, and the timing of them, many dramatic, many just outright amazing, that is especially noteworthy.
In four instances, there were at least two hat tricks in a single night, but the strangest night came on Oct. 12. We start in New Jersey, where diminutive forward Brian Gionta scored a natural hat trick in the third period as the Devils erased a three-goal deficit to tie the game before winning 7-6 in a shootout against the Maple Leafs.
Also that evening, San Jose's Jonathan Cheechoo became the first player to score three goals by the seven-minute mark of the second period since Erik Cole did it for the Hurricanes last January. And in the same game, Edmonton's Ryan Smyth scored three straight goals in a 2:01 span early in the third period, breaking Wayne Gretzky's franchise record. It was the second time in NHL history that players on opposing teams had natural hat tricks and the first since 1919.
Just two nights later, and after Buffalo's Chris Drury scored a hat trick for the Sabres in a win over the Rangers, one of the most memorable hat tricks happened in Toronto. Captain Mats Sundin recorded his eighth career hat trick, but there probably could not have been enough superlatives to describe his third goal of the game. He completed the feat with a short-handed tally in overtime, which was the 500th goal of his career.
Defensemen had their say in the hat trick department in October, as well. Sundin's teammate, Tomas Kaberle, notched his first hat trick on Oct. 28 in a victory at Montreal. It was the first by a Maple Leafs blueliner since Hall of Famer Borje Salming did so against the Blackhawks in 1981.
Mathieu Schneider, 37, recorded his second career hat trick and broke his own record for the oldest blueliner to score a hat trick (he was 36 when he had his first). He was the first defenseman with three even-strength goals in one game since Sami Salo did it for Ottawa in March 1999, and he joined Sandis Ozolinsh as the only active defensemen with two career hat tricks.
And what would a story about hat tricks be without a mention of one of the league's brightest and youngest superstars, Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby? He had the first hat trick of his career, tallying three times in the Penguins' 8-2 rout of the Flyers on Oct. 28. It was part of a tremendous month for Crosby, who led all NHL players in average points per game (1.67).
Vincent Masi is a researcher for ESPN.
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