Gretzky feats, play of Rangers highlight hockey season to date
The National Hockey League All-Star break traditionally is a time for taking stock of the season just past its halfway point. Mostly that makes you wish you owned stock in Wayne Gretzky.
The young Edmonton Oiler center (he turned 23 last week) was stopped without a point Saturday for the first time all season. It was his last outing before tonight's All-Star game in New Jersey. Doing the stopping of Gretzky's record 5 l-game run were the Los Angeles Kings, who cut off his previous record streak at 30 last year.
So Gretzky will not score in all 80 games on Edmonton's 1983-84 schedule, which ought to be an unthinkable achievement, but with him isn't. He is, however , handsomely ahead of his own record pace for goals, assists, and points in a season.
He has amassed 61 goals and 92 assists for 153 points. The only player ever to average more than two points a game, Wayne is averaging just a under three.
''I didn't mind the streak being stopped,'' he said, ''I didn't throw it away. I had my chances Saturday night. It was getting tougher mentally every game. Every time I got that first point, I was relieved.''
Rumors are floating, meanwhile, that Gretzky might be traded to an American team to give the NHL more US appeal. He has not denied them.
If Gretzky has dominated the individual statistics, the Oilers, scoring six goals a game, have been scarceley less dominant in the standings. With 81 points , they are barely within view of their Smythe Division rivals and well ahead of the other division leaders, Buffalo, Minnesota, and the New York Rangers.
The Rangers are the major surprise so far, having wrested first place from the Stanley Cup Champion New York Islanders over the weekend. The big Ranger surprise is Pierre Larouche, with 37 goals and 27 assists in 51 games.
Larouche was acquired as a free agent last fall and came with a reputation of being temperamental and causing morale problems. Coach Herb Brooks expresses satisfaction with Larouche's attitude and delight with the way he has fit into Brooks's Olympic-style offense. Larouche replaces the injured Bryan Trottier of the Islanders on the Prince of Wales squad for the All-Star game.
The Islanders, with both Trottier and high-scoring right wing Mike Bossy sidelined by knee problems, have lost four in a row and face a trying two weeks waiting for their big guns to return.
Says a solemn coach, Al Arbour, ''We've been struggling for awhile. We haven't been playing well, and injuries compound the situation. I'm concerned. We are not scoring and we are not keeping the puck out of our net. I'm not going to point fingers. We'll see how it goes when we get the injured guys back.''
Trottier and Bossy will be back and so almost certainly will the Islanders, still firm favorites to win their fifth straight Stanley Cup. Edmonton, loser in the 1983 finals to the Islanders, has not yet found a way to deal with them.
The last time the two teams faced off in December, the Islanders scored four times in the first five minutes and cruised to an 8-5 victory.
The Islanders are involved in the best divisional race along with the Rangers , Philadelphia, and Washington - all clumped within a few points.
Buffalo and Boston are playing tag for the lead in the rugged Adams Division. Buffalo has won a record 10 in a row on the road, in great measure because of rookie Tom Barrasso's assured goal-tending. His goals-against average is under 3 .00.
Boston has an even better defense than Buffalo - the most stringent in the league in terms of goals allowed. The best goalie statistically has been the Bruins' Doug Keans, who seems to have beaten out last year's star, Pete Peeters. Keans, who played minor league hockey in New Haven last season, benefits from the Bruins' cast-iron defensive work all over the ice.
The Montreal Canadiens, meanwhile, are a shadow of their former dynastic selves, a distant fourth in their division. Minnesota leads the Norris Division by a clear margin over St. Louis and Chicago, with Detroit skating hard to move up after numerous off-season trades. Detroit rookie Steve Yverman, the only first-year player in the All-Star game, is a smooth 18-year-old centerman from British Columbia who is giving Barrasso a run for Rookie-of-the-Year honors.