It was seven degrees in Edmonton, Alberta on Wednesday, but lately it’s felt a lot colder in the secluded, blustery ditch of last place. The Oilers, last in the Pacific, last in the West, ahead of only Buffalo in the entire league, understandably haven’t had too much to feel warm about this year.
But on Wednesday night, history was made and a recently acquired goaltender named Ben Scrivens became the talk of the hockey universe.
This was supposed to be a short period of time during which the Islanders and Rangers were center of the NHL’s attention, playing in slightly – and I mean slightly – warmer weather at Yankee Stadium. Sure, fans in the Bronx were treated to a wonderful game; tough-guy Daniel Carcillo punched in the game-winner early in the third period and Henrik Lundqvist lived up to his “King” nickname once again in a tidy, 2-1 bout in front of a frostbitten crowd of 50,027.
But this night was all about the kid who was kicked to the curb by the Los Angeles Kings after starter Jonathan Quick returned from injury two weeks ago. Why?
Scrivens stopped 59 shots for the lowly Oilers in a 3-0 blanking of the San Jose Sharks and surpassed the NHL’s record in the expansion era for saves in a shutout.
That wasn’t a typo. Fifty-nine shots. None of them made it past the former undrafted free agent, as he beat Mike Smith’s previous mark of 54. He also set an Oilers franchise record in the process for most saves in a game, surpassing the old record of 56 set by Bill Ranford in 1993.
“Hats off to the goaltender, he was tremendous,” San Jose coach Todd McLellan told the Associated Press. “Heck of a performance. In all my years in the league I don’t think I’ve seen that. We attempted 100 shots on goal; that doesn’t happen very often.”
Scrivens now has a league-best .937 save percentage and has set aside 118 of his past 121 attempts.
Truth be told, his nomadic past makes the story even better. The 26-year-old was a three-year starter at NCAA national powerhouse Cornell and eventually signed a one-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs in April of 2010. He won 10 of 13 games in the ECHL, and later was promoted to the organization’s AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.
Scrivens finally got the break he’d been waiting for, as the Maple Leafs called him up and he earned his first NHL victory on Nov. 3, 2011 in Columbus.
Earlier this season, Quick – an All-Star and 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner – suffered a lower-body injury, which caused him to miss 24 games. For Los Angeles, where there’s more pressure on the Kings to win rather than the listless Lakers these days, it could’ve spelled doom in the rough waters of the West. But Scrivens, the little-known backup, kept them afloat by winning seven games and posting a miniscule 1.97 goals-against average.
Then he was forced to pack his bags again. The Oilers reached an agreement to acquire Scrivens on Jan. 15, hoping he’d serve as a complementary piece to Ilya Bryzgalov in the present and a cornerstone in the future.
Three games into his tenure with the new club, he found himself between the pipes staring down a Stanley Cup contender in the Sharks, hoping to earn the respect another franchise. If you weren’t tracking the contest, all you needed to know was he was trending on Twitter within minutes of the final horn.
“I had an awful, awful warmup, it was an inauspicious start to it,” Scrivens told the AP. “It’s one of those things where you try not to look at the forest while you’re in the trees. You try to focus on the process and give yourself a chance to make that save and when the puck drops again, you try to focus on the next one and don’t try to get too far ahead of yourself.”
Move over, Taylor Hall. I think we’ve found a new fan-favorite.
“Obviously you don’t want to give up 59 shots, but sometimes a goalie has to stand on his head, and that has to be one of the best performances by a goalie I have ever seen,” Hall told the AP.
Scrivens deserved all three stars, really, and any of his teammates would say the same.
Maybe the Oilers aren’t going to make any noise this year or next. Maybe they’ll have to prepare for a couple more drafts before taking the landscape by storm once again.
But nights like this, magical nights like this, make the uphill climb a lot more tolerable, wouldn’t you say?