Monday, December 19, 2016

35 Years Ago Today; Gretzky Erupts

35 years ago today, Wayne Gretzky erupted for the greatest stretch of scoring in his career. Going into a game against Minnesota on December 19, 1981, The Great One was comfortably in the lead in NHL scoring with a line of 35 goals, 48 assists, 83 points through 34 games. The hockey world was abuzz with the possibility of him scoring 50 goals in 50 games...or better. The scoring leaders at this point were as follows: (G-A-Pts)

Gretzky  35-48-83
PStastny 21-39-60
DTaylor  18-35-53
Dionne   23-29-52
BSmith   20-32-51
Savard    15-35-50
Bossy     23-26-49

Gretzky had a nice 23 point lead on second place Peter Stastny, that would be padded further during a 9-6 home victory over the North Stars. Gretzky notched 3 goals and 4 helpers to take him to 38 goals in 35 games. The following night, Calgary came to town and the Oilers lost 7-5, Gretzky scored only 2 goals and an assist.
On December 23, Edmonton hosted Vancouver and prevailed 6-1 on the strength of a goal and 3 helpers from Gretzky. He had now tallied 6 goals and 14 points over his previous three games. He was just warming up.
After the Christmas break, Oilers hosted the Kings and routed to a 10-3 victory. Gretzky potted 4 goals and an assist to take his goal total to a ridiculous 45 through 38 games. Now it was just a matter of time as to when he would break the mark for fastest 50 goals in a season. Even Wayne himself couldn't have guessed it would happen so soon.
On December 30, with Philadelphia in town and the Oilers won a hard-fought game 7-5. Gretz potted 5 goals and added an assist, the 50th goal into an empty net as Flyer Bill Barber dove headlong in vain. 50 goals in 39 games. Gretzky's outburst had produced an astonishing 15 goals, 10 assists and 25 points over a five game period. Think about that again.
The Oilers lost 3-1 in Vancouver the following night as Gretzky was finally shut down. When the New Year dawned, the NHL scoring leaders were as such:

Gretzky   50-58-108
PStastny  25-43-68
Dionne    26-38-64
DTaylor   22-42-64
Bossy      30-33-63
BSmith    22-36-58
Savard     17-41-58

The Kid's lead had ballooned to 40 points. While Gretzky was collecting 25 points in 5 games, Stastny had 8 in 4, Dionne 12 in 6, Taylor 11 in 6, Bossy 14 in 6, Smith 7 in 6 and Savard 8 in 7. Four of these guys were scoring at least two points per game, and all lost significant ground to Gretzky.

Of course, Gretzky ended up with 92 goals and 212 points in 1981/82 and a 65 point lead over second place Mike Bossy. He never again produced at such an amazing rate over the rest of his career.

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