Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Darryl Sittler; The Mother of all Breakout Games

Earlier this year I discussed Darryl Sittler's amazing 10 point night on February 7, 1976. I noted that the game represented a breakout of sorts in Sittler's overall career arc. Upon further inspection, Feb. 7, 1976 indeed appears as a dramatic stepping stone to a new level of performance for Sittler.

1975/76 was his sixth season in the NHL and after two developing years to start his career he became a nice point per game centreman. Over Sittler's third through fifth seasons, he produced 1.06 points per game. In 1975/76 up until Feb 7, he had continued along at 1.04 points per game. However, since the new year of 1976, Sittler had actually slowed down his production to pedestrian standards. Over the 17 games leading up to his explosive night, he had a mere 13 points.

The Toronto media was calling for the Maple Leafs to aquire a "top scoring" centre if they had any hope of contending. The truth is, the media may very well have had a point. Over the three previous seasons there were ten NHL centres that scored points at a higher rate than Sittler.

Sittler actually made reference to the criticism after his magical evening of Feb. 7 stating to the media, "I wonder if they're still looking for a centre?" Although it would take Sittler the next seven games to collect his next ten points, Feb.7, 1976 did end up being a drastic step to the upper echelon for Darryl Sittler. In his final 28 games of 75/76 including Feb.7 he notched 47 points. He would continue scoring points at a new level over the next five years as he was bested by only Marcel Dionne and Bryan Trottier in points per game.

It's either quite a coincidence or a statement of fact that Feb. 7, 1976 proved to be dramatic turning point in the career of Darryl Sittler. In my opinion, the numbers are overwhelming that this historic game gave Sittler the confidence and knowledge that he was indeed in the upper echelon of NHL centremen.

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