Gretzky is great, but champion Oilers more than a one-man show
Now that Wayne Gretzky has inspired Edmonton to a second straight Stanley cup, been named Most Valuable Player of the playoffs, and broken the playoff scoring record, it can be revealed that even he has weaknesses. For one thing, he is afraid of flying.
For another, he hasn't figured out how to sign autographs in a surging crowd without getting pen marks all over his clothes.
And, on the ice, he doesn't shoot enough. Really.
``I have this bad habit of passing when I should be shooting,'' he says. ``The coaches tell me all the time I've got to shoot the puck more.''
In the first game of the finals at Philadelphia, Gretzky did not get a single shot and the Oilers lost. It was adjustment time, and coach Glen Sather told Wayne to forget the frilly stuff and start firing at the net.
In the next game Gretzky quickly sent the Oilers ahead by jamming in a rebound of his own shot and they tied the series, which moved from Philadelphia to Edmonton for the next three games.
In Game 3, Gretzky poured in three goals and the team he captains took full command. With Wayne accounting for three more goals in the next two games, Edmonton won in five. The finale was an 8-3 rout that represented the biggest winning margin since Toronto embarrassed Detroit 7-2 in 1948. Defense-minded Philadelphia hadn't given up eight goals in a game all season. The most memorable scoring plays were two backhand passes by Gretzky that resulted in first-period goals.
The series was postured as Edmonton's Fourth-of-July offense against Phladelphia's armor-plated defense, and ultimately and decisively the offense prevailed.
Gretzky produced 47 points in his 18 playoff games, obliterating his own record of 38. But Wayne wasn't the only Oiler to enter the record book. His right-hand man, right wing Jari Kurri, scored 19 goals -- most of them set up by Gretzky -- to tie Reggie Leach's total of 11 years ago. And Paul Coffey, the exciting point man, broke all the scoring records for a defenseman with 12 goals and 25 assists for 37 points.
Those three almost certainly are the best in hockey at their positions, and fast-handed goalie Grant Fuhr may be a fourth. He'll never have the lowest average in the league playing behind the comparatively wide-open Oilers, but he makes the important saves -- he stopped penalty shots in each of the last two games.
If there were an award for the most underrated player, it could go to Oiler defender Charlie Huddy, who pairs with the flashy Coffey.
Huddy is a solid, performer who regularly slides well-timed passes to his partner, then stays back to cover defensively while the latter races up the ice.
It must be pointed out that Philadelphia, the youngest team in the NHL, went into the finals with injury problems and saw the situation worsen. At the end the Flyers were without their leading scorer, Tim Kerr, veteran defenseman Brad McCrimmon, and goalie Pelle Lindbergh.
The loss of Lindbergh, who had played well throughout the playoffs, was particularly devastating. His replacement, Bob Froese, appeared frozen by Edmonton's whirlwind attack in the last game.
But when the Oilers begin hitting on all cylinders there's no goaltender and no team in hockey that can contain them. Averaging only 25-26 years of age themselves, they have to be the team of the future as well as the present, assuming they remain intact.
Their searing speed from blue line to blue line turns innocuous situations into sudden 3-on-2 scoring possibilities. They raise the rudimentary tactic of give-and-go passing to a dizzying and devastating level.
In the center of it all, usually, is the amazing Gretzky. He somehow seems to see the entire building -- from his off winger to the popcorn seller in the balcony -- without looking. He makes average players on his team look good and good players look great.
He is only 24 years old and improving every season. . . . even if he does have those blatant weaknesses when he flies, signs autographs, and passes the puck to excess (and what a charming drawback that is, anyway, in an era of egocentric superstars!)