Hat tricks are piling up at a near-historic rate this season

There are a lot of great moments in hockey, but few please crowds quite like a hat trick. It’s simple to see why: most of the time, if a player scores three goals by himself, his team is likely to earn a win. Beyond that, it gives fans an opportunity to throw something toward the ice without fear of a Ron Artest-style retribution.

(Though you might recall Sidney Crosby didn’t especially appreciate Capitals fans throwing hats during the 2009 playoffs.)

If you noticed a considerable increase in hat tricks so far this season, you’re justified in doing so. Adam Kimmelman of NHL.com points out that the league hasn’t seen hat tricks being scored at such a rate since the 1994-95 season. Let’s take a look at some of Kimmelman’s findings.

(Note: these stats are valid before tonight’s games. No one scored a hat trick in the night’s first five games, although Torrey Mitchell currently has two goals in the Ducks-Sharks game as of this writing.)

Through the first 247 games this season, there have been 20 players putting together three-goal games, the most at this point in a season since 1994-95, when there were 22. At this point last season there were just 11 hat tricks.

Nineteen different players have had hat tricks this season, including a pair by Washington Capitals forward Alexander Semin. He had 3 goals against the Thrashers in a 4-3 overtime victory Oct. 23, and had 3 goals — including the game-winner, as well as 2 assists — in 6-3 win against the Lightning on Nov. 11.

That same night, Philadelphia Flyers forward Jeff Carter scored 3 straight goals — a natural hat trick — in an 8-1 rout of the Hurricanes. It was the first natural hat trick in an NHL game since Marian Gaborik accomplished the feat Jan. 31, 2010.

Two hat tricks on one day hasn’t been all that unique this season — Oct. 22 and Oct. 23 each featured a hat trick of hat tricks.

(Continued note: it’s not clear if adding five or six games to that hat trick stat changes things significantly.)

As Kimmelman pointed out, there were some historic moments attached to some of those hat tricks. From the early accomplishment angle, New York Rangers forward Derek Stepan scored his first career goal(s) via a hat trick. On the other end of the fence, Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson earned his 1,000th career point as part of a hat trick performance.

Believe it or not, 247 (or even 253) games is actually a fairly small sample for league-wide trends. Hat tricks are still relatively rare occurrences, so these trends could go two different ways. It could go either way, but so far, it’s been fun to watch the hats fly with such startling frequency.

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.