If any hockey player knows about the pressure of chasing the milestone of scoring 50 goals in 50 games – as well as the exhilaration of achieving such an objective – it’s “The Great One.”
So as Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Steve Stamkos scores goal after goal (20 in 21 games at this point), it makes sense that people are starting to wonder if the young gun with the Brett Hull-like shot can do the unthinkable in this defensively adept era by reaching such a milestone.
There are plenty of things that can go wrong, though – from injuries to specific Stamkos stopping strategies to genuine slumps – so when Pierre LeBrun caught up with Wayne Gretzky on the subject, the NHL’s all-time points/goals/almost everything leader asked that we tap the brakes a little bit.
Gretzky remembers the first time he was chasing 50 in 50 in 1981-82, when he did it in only 39 games (mercy!), and how the pressure mounted.
“For me, I remember being at the 37- or 38-goal plateau and thinking, ‘The worst thing I can do now is fail and not get there,'” Gretzky said. “So it becomes the kind of pressure where you don’t want to let yourself down and let people down who are watching and pulling for you. You put that inner pressure on yourself. It’s still a little early for [Stamkos] right now. Once you get to 35 goals in 35-38 games, then you’re on pace for that opportunity.”
While Gretzky thinks it’s a little hasty to discuss Stamkos hitting that mark, he thinks that it’s much better to answer questions about lofty goal scoring achievements rather than discussing slumps or other low moments.
The hotter Stamkos stays, the more the media will ask him about his 50-in-50 chase. I asked Gretzky if that could add to the stress, but he disagreed.
“That’s a fun part of the game,” he said. “It’s a lot better talking about that than going five games without a goal and people saying, ‘When are you going to score your next goal?’ It’s a lot more fun when they’re asking you if you can get 50 in 50.”
So while Gretzky asked that people calm down about the 50 in 50 talk, he raved about the work ethic he sees in Stamkos. He compared the young center’s drive to that of the game’s best players, from Sidney Crosby to Alex Ovechkin and Henrik Zetterberg. He also pointed out that the fact that you need good linemates to achieve the task, something he has in the sweet passing Martin St. Louis and the rugged but surprisingly talented Steve Downie.
We’ll see if Stamkos can pull this off, but in a post-lockout era in which goals are still pretty tough to come by, it’s amazing that we’re even having this discussion in the first place.