Since Wayne Gretzky started shattering scoring records at the start of the decade, teams have been trying to come up with ways--not always legal--to slow him down.
They have tried putting a man on the ice just to shadow him; they have taken runs at him, and they have tried to antagonize and intimidate him.
None of the tactics have worked. The Edmonton Oilers' center, who will be 25 in a couple of weeks, is better than ever. As the second half of the regular season goes into full swing, Gretzky has picked up the pace.
Gretzky scored two goals and assisted on another Wednesday night at Hartford to lead the two-time champion Oilers to a 4-1 victory over the Whalers.
In the four games since his club reached the halfway point (40 games), Gretzky has scored six goals and assisted on nine others. He holds almost all of the offensive records already, but he is on a pace right now that would break two of his own.
The Oilers have played 44 games, and Gretzky has 35 goals, 87 assists and 122 points. At that pace, he would score 231 points (his record is 212) and would have 158 assists (his record is 135).
Although he keeps saying that one player can't make a team, it is significant that whenever the Oilers seem to be in a slump, Gretzky comes to the fore.
Despite his scoring feats--three goals and six assists--the Oilers lost the first two games of this trip. So, Gretzky started working harder. In the last two games, the Oilers have beaten Montreal and Hartford, two strong teams.
"In the last two games we have played our best hockey of the season," he said. "We have emerged from our slump. We want to post the best overall record."
When Gretzky assisted on Dave Lumley's goal in the closing seconds of the first period, he extended his scoring streak to 35 games. It is the second longest in NHL history. The longest is 51 games, set by Gretzky, of course, in the 1983-84 season.
Gretzky scored early in the second period, and that was all goaltender Andy Moog needed.
Pittsburgh 6, New York Islanders 3--The Penguins scored four goals during a five-minute rally in the third period at Pittsburgh that brought them a victory. It was the first time in their last five tries that the Penguins have beaten the Islanders. Last Thursday, the Islanders won, 9-0.
Mike Bossy, shooting for a record ninth consecutive 50-goal season, scored two of the Islander goals on power playes and now has 31.
Montreal 4, Winnipeg 0--Rookie center Stephane Richer scored twice at Montreal to help rookie goaltender Patrick Roy register his first NHL shutout. Roy had to stop only 19 shots against the Jets, who upset Quebec Tuesday night.
The victory moved the Canadiens into a tie with Quebec for first place in the Adams Division.
New Jersey 4, Detroit 3--Tim Higgins scored at 1:23 of overtime at Detroit to give the Devils their second victory in the last 12 games.
The teams were scoreless until Higgins scored, after John Ogrodnick got the Red Wings even with 53 seconds left in the second period.
St. Louis 10, Toronto 1--Bernie Federko had two goals and three assists at St. Louis to lead the Blues to a ridiculously easy victory over the Maple Leafs.
Rick Wamsley stopped the Leafs' first 30 shots but lost his shutout when Dan Hodgson scored on their 31st shot with 92 seconds left.
Chicago 4, Buffalo 2--Billy Gardner broke a 1-1 tie in the second period at Chicago with his third goal of the season, and the Black Hawks were never headed.
The victory gave the surging Black Hawks a 12-2-1 record in the last 15 games.
Chicago's Troy Murray achieved a career high with his 27th goal in the third period.