January 1920 – One team emerges as the best – First Line Rover

Headline – The Senators are really good

In the first two seasons, we’ve had some decent competition for the top spot in the league. The Canadiens were largely the best team in Season One, but were taken down by Toronto in the NHL Final. The Senators played that role in Season Two before being dismissed by Montreal in the Final.

This season, one team looks significantly better than all the others. That team is Ottawa.

Their roster is by far the best constructed in the league. Frank Nighbor, Jack Darragh, Punch Broadbent, and Cy Denneny are scoring up front. Holding up the back end is Eddie Gerard, Sprague Cleghorn, Georges Boucher, and in goal is Clint Benedict. There is not a single hole on this roster.

How good are they? During this first half of the season, they gave up just 23 goals in 12 games, while scoring 59. If we use Pythagorean math with those goal totals, and bear with us just a little bit, their deserved point total is just under 21, which would equate to a 10-1-1 record. They’ve given up three or fewer goals in all but two of their games.

They’re actually 9-3-0, but that doesn’t matter. No one is even close to their goal total numbers. The next best team is Montreal, who’ve scored just a bit more, but have given up nearly 30 more goals.

Ottawa may just run away with the season and cancel the need for a playoff series if they win the second half. They are just that dominant.

A look back when…the Senators were dominant

The last time the Ottawa Senators were this dominant was in the middle of the 1900’s, when they were known as the Silver Seven. The most well known story about that era is the story behind the 1905 Stanley Cup Challenge. It also involves possibly the most challenging trek to play a hockey game the world will ever know.

The 1905 Dawson City Nuggets, taken
before they knew what was coming
on their trip south.

The Dawson City Nuggets left their hometown in the Yukon a month in advance of the upcoming challenge series in Ottawa, with a plan of dogsledding to Whitehorse, catching a train to Skagway, Alaska, a steamboat to Vancouver, and a train to Ottawa. The plan was laid out, but hit several snags along the way:

  • The weather turned warm on the way down to Whitehorse, thawing the ice and forcing the Nuggets to abandon the dog sleds, and walk or bike most of the 330 miles to Whitehorse.
  • In Whitehorse, snowstorms kept any trains in town, and the team missed their scheduled boat in Skagway.
  • When they finally made it to Skagway, the next boat they were able to catch was stuck in ice buildup.
  • When they managed to get on the boat, the weather in Vancouver was foggy, and the steamboat couldn’t dock, so they detoured to Seattle. Players suffered from seasickness, making things that much more fun.

Travelling the rest of the way from Seattle proved easier, catching a train to Vancouver and from there another to Ottawa, and the tired team finally arrived in town two days before the series. Despite all that, Ottawa demanded the series go on as scheduled.

Ottawa took a 3-1 lead in the first half of Game 1, and that was very impressive for the weary Dawson side. The second half is where things went south (not geographically, the Nuggets had had enough of that). Dawson’s Norman Watt tripped Ottawa’s Art Moore, who decided it cost Watt a stick to the face. Watt swung his stick back, and knocked Moore out cold. This is typical of hockey’s early justice system. Ottawa’s Alf Smith scored four goals, and the Silver Seven won 9-2.

Game 2 was all about Frank McGee. Despite being blind in one eye as a result of a stray puck (or stick, scholars debate), McGee could play the game quite well. He scored four goals in the first half, then exploded for ten more in the second half, including eight in a nine minute span. The Silver Seven won the game 23-2, successfully defending the Cup. The 23 goal total is currently the most ever scored in a single game in Stanley Cup history, which the Silver Seven determined was worthy of a celebration.

The Silver Seven held a banquet that night, and during the dinner party, someone had the bright idea of trying to kick the Stanley Cup over the Rideau Canal as part of a bet. The Cup didn’t quite make it across, and the team returned to dinner without it. It was retrieved by the team the following morning, finding the Cup still resting where they left it on the frozen canal.

Did that actually just happen?

Speaking of single game scoring records, one was set this month.

On January 31, the Toronto St. Patricks were in Quebec to play the Athletics. The game had no effect on the standings, with the St. Pats firmly entrenched in third place, and the Athletics having just one win in 11 games.

Quebec opened the scoring with Joe Malone, and the two teams exchanged goals the rest of the period, ending 3-2 in favor of the Athletics. Malone took over the second period for Quebec, scoring all three Athletics goals himself, and the second ended 6-4 Quebec.

The game got tight in the third period, with the St. Pats coming within one goal on two occasions early in the frame, but Malone put another three goals on the board in the second half of the period to salt the game away, 10-6 in favor of Quebec. His seven goals matched the highest total the Athletics have scored as a team in any one game to this point (coming in their only other win, also against the St. Pats), and established a league record that may stand for a long time.

Power Rankings

  1. Ottawa Senators (9-3-0, +36 Goal Differential)
    They look like the best team the NHL has seen to date. We’ve beaten that point to death already.
  2. Montreal Canadiens (8-4-0, +11 GD)
    These Canadiens are pretty good, and are probably overlooked due to how dominant the Senators are. Out of the four games the two teams have played, Ottawa has won three, contributing three of the four games the Canadiens have lost.
  3. Toronto St. Patricks (5-7-0, -10 GD)
    They aren’t very good, as told by them losing twice to Quebec, somehow. They aren’t very bad, as told by them beating the Senators twice, somehow.
  4. Quebec Athletics (2-10-0, -37 GD)
    They may be the worst team the NHL has seen to date…but that seven goal game though.


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