Wayne Gretzky

Remembering Gretzky passing Howe, 30 years later

7 Comments

Throughout the season we will be taking an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back 30 years when Wayne Gretzky broke Gordie Howe’s all-time points record … against his former team.

Exactly 30 years ago Tuesday Wayne Gretzky, then a member of the Los Angeles Kings, made NHL history by breaking Gordie Howe’s points record with a late third period goal to tally his 1,851st career point in the league.

In what was perhaps the most fitting way possible, he managed to do it in Edmonton against his former team where he spent the first nine years of his NHL career, winning four Stanley Cups. “The Great One” also accomplished the feat just a little more than a year after he was traded to Los Angeles in one of the biggest trades in sports history. There was already a statue built of him outside the building in which he broke the record.

Gretzky entered the game trailing Howe by just a single point and tied the all-time mark with a first period assist on a Bernie Nicholls goal to give the Kings a 1-0 lead.

He broke Howe’s record with less than a minute to play in the third period, tying the game and sending it to overtime where Gretzky would end up winning the game to cap off the night.

Not only did he break the record in Edmonton on a game-tying in the closing seconds, but it came at the end of what was a three-minute shift for Gretzky, via the October 15, 1989 Associated Press:

A couple of random facts to keep in mind about Gretzky’s climb up the NHL’s all-time points leaderboard and the absurdity of his production…

  • He recorded his 1,850th point in his 11th NHL season at the age of 28.
  • By comparison, Howe played 26 seasons in the NHL and recorded his 1,850th point at the age of 51. Yes, there was a brief three-year retirement and a six-year stop in the WHA thrown in there, but even if you look at Howe’s career when he retired the first time at age 42 (after 25 seasons in the NHL) he was still *only* at 1,809 points. Gretzky shattered that by age 27.
  • The craziest stat about Gretzky’s career is still the fact that if he never scored a goal in the NHL he would have still eventually broken Howe’s point record by 113 points just based on assists alone.
  • At the time of Gretzky’s record setting day, he had already registered 1,207 assists, a mark that (again excluding goals) would have been enough to put him in the top-12 in points all-time at that moment.
  • Gretzky would go on to finish his career with 2,857 points. The NHL’s second-leading scorer, Jaromir Jagr, is 936 points behind him (1,921 points). The gap between Gretzky and Jagr at No. 1 and 2 is the same as the gap between Jagr and the 91st leading scorer of all-time, Dave Keon.
  • The active players that are closest to Gretzky are Joe Thornton with 1,480 points, Sidney Crosby with 1,226, and Alex Ovechkin with 1,218. It is entirely possible — if not likely — that Crosby and Ovechkin will eventually pass Howe’s mark and climb into the top-five, but none of them have any chance of matching Gretzky’s point record, a mark that seems almost unbreakable given the way the game has evolved and become a more defensive and goaltending dominated sport.

For more stories from the PHT Time Machine, click here.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Power Rankings: Best season starts in league history

1 Comment

New York Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad and Detroit Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha are two of the most surprising — and productive — players through the first week of the NHL season.

Zibanejad is already up to eight points in the Rangers’ first two games, while Mantha is coming off a four-goal effort on Sunday and already has seven points (including five goals) for the Red Wings.

With their fast starts in mind, we wanted to use this week’s Power Rankings to take a look back at some of the best individual starts to past seasons.

Which fast starts make the cut?

To the rankings!

1. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers/Los Angeles Kings (1983-84 and 1988-89). Bless the 1980s NHL and its lack of defense and overmatched goaltenders. Gretzky’s 1983-84 season was one of those truly baffling years where no one could stop him. He opened with 15 points in five games and then went on to record at least one point in each of his first 51 games. He was held without a point in just three games all year! A few years later Gretzky moved to Los Angeles where he posted 13 points in his first five games in 1988-89 as part of a 22-game point streak to open the year.

2. Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins (1988-89 and 1992-93). Lemieux was a hockey cheat code in the late ’80s and early ’90s and had two different starts where he recorded at least 17 points in the first five games of a season. He first did it in 1988-89 with nine goals and 10 assists, including an eight-point game in a 9-2 win against the St. Louis Blues. He went on to finish that year with 85 goals, 199 points, and one of the most controversial second place MVP finishes ever. The ’92-93 season was Lemieux at his most dominant, and it began with him putting 17 points on the board in the first five games. He would go on to record at least two points in each of his first 12 games. This was also the year he missed nearly two months battling Hodgkin’s disease, only to return in early March and overcome a 17-point deficit in the scoring race to top Pat LaFontaine for the Art Ross Trophy.

3. Mike Bossy, New York Islanders (1984-85). This was a truly dominant start for one of the best pure goal scorers the league has ever seen. Bossy started the ’84-85 season with nine goals and 18 points in the Islanders’ first five games and he never really slowed down after that. He went on to score at least one goal in each of his first 10 games (including two four-goal efforts) with 32 total points.

4. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals (2017-18). He opened the Capitals’ Stanley Cup winning season with seven goals in his first two games and nine in his first five. It was the best start to a season in his career. Those are the type of numbers you would have expected from the 1980s era NHL. Doing it during this era, and over the age of 30, was truly incredible.

5. Michel Goulet, Quebec Nordiques (1987-88). Goulet had some massive years for the Nordiques in the 1980s, with the ’87-88 season being one of his best. He finished with 48 goals and 106 points and it all started with a dominant run at the start that saw him score six goals to go with 12 assists in his first five games. He had nine three-point games before Thanksgiving, including four four-point games.

6. Peter Stastny, Quebec Nordiques (1982-83). The Stastnys were wildly productive players from the moment they arrived in the NHL. Peter opened the 1982-83 season with eight goals in his first three games. Since the start of the 1979-80 season, no player in the NHL has scored more goals in their team’s first three games.

7. Darcy Kuemper, Minnesota Wild (2014-15). His 2014-15 season did not end up being a great one overall, but he started the year about as well as any goalie has ever started a season in recent memory. He recorded a shutout in three of the Wild’s first five games, allowing just four total goals during that stretch.

8. Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers (2005-06). Still probably the most under appreciated great goalie in NHL history simply because he never ended up getting his name on the Stanley Cup. During his first stint with the Panthers he took on a massive workload and was peppered with shots every night and almost always giving his team a chance. He opened 2005-06 with back-to-back shutouts in his first two games and had a save percentage over .960 through Florida’s first five games. It was the second year in a row he led the league in shots faced and saves. He was traded to Vancouver after the season.

9. Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks (2012-13). Marleau was one of the league’s top goal-scorers between 2008 and 2012 and looked like he was on track to continue that run when he opened the lockout shortened 2012-13 season with two goals in each of his first four games. Just for good measure, he scored one goal in his fifth game to give him nine goals in his first five games. He was never able to maintain that pace all year and finished with just eight goals over the remaining 43 games. He did, however, open the playoffs that year with a goal in five of his first six postseason games, including each of the first four. It was a very streaky year.

10. Mark Parrish, New York Islanders (2001-02). I mainly just wanted to include this one because I vividly remember it for its total randomness. Mark Parrish? Scoring all of the goals? For the early 2000s Islanders? It made no sense at the time. Parrish was in his second year with the Islanders after being acquired in the doomed-from-the-beginning Luongo trade and opened the 2001-02 season with eight goals in the team’s four games, and then 12 goals through 12 games. He went on to score 30 that year (the only 30-goal season of his career) and while he was a very good player, he was never productive enough to make up for being traded for Luongo and Olli Jokinen.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Ovechkin seems comfortable chasing Gretzky’s goals record

Getty Images
14 Comments

Considering the “Aww, shucks” demeanor of many NHL players, it’s still sometimes surprising to hear someone speak the truth in a matter-of-fact way.

Of course you’d think Alex Ovechkin would want to someday break Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record of 894, but plenty of players would mumble some sort of cliche about it. Yet, at 236 goals away at 658, it’s at least a conceivable goal, and it sounds like Ovechkin’s at least willing to state the obvious: that it’s at least in the back of his mind.

Elliotte Friedman pointed out that Ovechkin stated as much in the latest edition of “31 Thoughts.”

“Of course it matters,” Ovechkin said when asked about Gretzky’s record, “But like I said, I’m not going to score 300 goals in two years. It’s going to take five or six years. I have to be healthy enough to do that. I don’t want to play just for that record. I want to be healthy, I want to have fun, I want to enjoy the moment when I’m on the ice.”

… While Ovechkin acknowledged the possibility to Sportsnet radio hosts Tim & Sid:

(“We have to talk about something,” indeed.)

With unique talents like Gretzky and Ovechkin, extraordinary numbers and feats start to feel expected, and ordinary.

For most NHL forwards, 236 goals would make for a really nice career, let alone a number to strive for when you’ve already played 1,000+ NHL games, won multiple high-level awards, and a Stanley Cup. That goal is especially lofty when you realize Ovechkin will turn 34 on Sept. 17.

But considering the machine-like scoring of the Russian Machine Who Never Breaks, it’s irresistible to forecast Ovechkin flirting with 900.

For those who truly cannot resist, consider the paces Ovechkin would need to reach 894 from his current 658:

Four seasons: 59 goals per year.

Five seasons: A bit more than 47 goals per year (47.2).

Six seasons: Slightly less than 40 goals per season (39.33).

Seven seasons: Almost 34 goals per season (33.7).

Eight seasons: Essentially a 30-goal average (29.5).

Nine seasons: Slightly more than 26 goals per year (26.2).

Ten seasons: 23.6 goals per year (or about 24).

The interesting thing about stretching that pace out is that, while Ovechkin playing longer into a career would increase the odds by sheer volume, to some extent it does a better job of putting the monumental task into perspective. If Ovechkin got hurt or was slowed, he’d have to remain at a high level for a long time, or manage to maintain his currently extremely high level for a considerable run.

(Consider that, in 2018-19, only 87 players finished with at least 23 goals.)

Yet, if any player can actually meet or exceed 894 goals, it’s Ovechkin. Remarkably, he’s still slightly ahead of Gretzky’s sniping pace, as Ovechkin’s 658 goals in 1,084 games puts him at .61 goals-per-game, while Gretzky’s 894 in 1,487 is slightly behind at .60.

This race has been discussed before, including at PHT, and will almost certainly be a topic as Ovechkin’s career continues, what with Ovechkin coming off of a 51-goal, Maurice Richard Trophy-winning season in 2018-19.

Whether Ovechkin makes it or falls short, it should be fun to watch.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Stanley Cup Buzzer: O’Reilly makes difference for Blues

1 Comment
  • The Bruins were hanging in there, managing a 2-2 tie through the first 40 minutes of Game 4, even though the Blues were carrying much of the play. Ryan O'Reilly had a big night, however, scoring two goals (including the game-winner) as St. Louis dug deep to tie the series 2-2.

St. Louis Blues 4, Boston Bruins 2 (Series tied 2-2; Game 5 airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday [stream here])

While Zdeno Chara‘s mouth injury was more about an extremely painful and unlucky bounce as anything else, Chara’s far from the only player who probably feels worse for wear after Game 4. This was a physical contest, with the Blues finding a way to assert themselves with an aggressive, swarming forecheck. Overall, St. Louis was credited with 44 hits. Yet, for all the attention paid to brawn, don’t forget finesse. The Blues’ top players came up bigger than the Bruins’ first line on Monday, and that played a big role in sending this series back to Boston as a best-of-three.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Ryan O’Reilly

ROR scored the opening goal of Game 4 just 43 seconds in, then generated the game-winner by jumping on a rebound in the third period.

After going without a point in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, O’Reilly now has a three-game point streak going, as he had an assist in each of Game 2 and 3 before generating those crucial two goals in Game 4. O’Reilly provided a dogged effort overall, firing five SOG as he factored into the Blues’ high-effort win.

The St. Louis crowd was loud all night, but it didn’t hurt that O’Reilly ranked among those who gave fans plenty to cheer about.

2. Alex Pietrangelo

Pietrangelo’s two assists were primary ones, and you didn’t have to squint hard to catch his contributions.

First, Pietrangelo made a nice move to gain a little extra time and space (not to mention get the Bruins at least a bit more off balance) to create a rebound for Vladimir Tarasenko‘s goal. Then, on Pietrangelo’s second assist, he fired a hard shot that Tuukka Rask couldn’t handle too well, with O’Reilly firing home the loose puck for the game-winner.

Pietrangelo finished Game 4 with five SOG, a +3 rating, and a robust 29:37 TOI. This continues to be a star-affirming playoff push for Pietrangelo.

3. Brayden Schenn

Rask absolutely deserves some consideration for three star status, although as strong as he was in Game 4, he’d also likely wonder if he could have avoided allowing such fat rebounds on the two goals Pietrangelo assisted on.

Schenn deserves some credit for his all-around play, and to me, takes a slight advantage. (Third star goes to the winner?)

Schenn scored a goal and an assist in Game 4, which should leave Wayne Gretzky happy. Schenn did more than just score, too, as he went 12-6 on faceoffs and delivered five hits. When the Blues’ top scorers are hot, St. Louis is very tough to beat, and that was certainly the case on Monday.

Factoids

  • This was the Blues’ first-ever home win in a Stanley Cup Final.
  • Jordan Binnington now has 14 wins (one behind the record for a rookie goalie), and improved to 7-2 after losses. Sportsnet notes the larger trend of Binnington bouncing back, which extends to the regular season.
  • Brandon Carlo is one of just four players to score their first playoff goal as a shorthanded tally in a Stanley Cup Final. This is mentioned mainly because one of the other players was named Bucko McDonald, who did so in 1936. Also on the list were Serge Savard (1968) and Bob Turner (1962) … but only one on the list was named Bucko.
  • Tarasenko scored his 11th goal of this run, moving him up some historic ranks as far as Blues snipers go.
  • St. Louis Blues history shares an odd one: the Blues are 4-0 in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs when they’ve allowed a shorthanded goal.
  • Sportsnet also notes that Patrice Bergeron now is at 103 career playoff points, breaking a tie with Phil Esposito for second all-time in Bruins history. Ray Bourque is far ahead for first place with a whopping 161 points.

MORE ON GAME 4

How to watch Game 5

Game 5 airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday (stream here).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Wayne Gretzky talks Blues, Bruins, players to watch

Wayne Gretzky held court with the NHL Live crew during the first intermission of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final (airing on NBC; stream here) on Monday, touching on plenty of hockey topics.

  • Gretzky touched on his brief time with the St. Louis Blues, and mentioned that he believes Brett Hull saved the Blues franchise.
  • There’s some fun banter about Gretzky’s “office” behind the net, and how cramped that office could be when he played at The Boston Garden.
  • “The Great One” discusses some of his favorite players to watch, from Mitch Marner to David Pastrnak, along with especially obvious choices like Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.
  • Interestingly, Gretzky discusses his recent podcasting ways, which can be seen in these shots from Getty Images, which are vaguely funny for reasons that are tough to place.
via Getty Images
via Getty Images

Anyone else planning on subscribing to “The Great One on 1” podcast?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.