There’s no easy way to say it, but 1982 was not a great year for the Pittsburgh Penguins. They finished at the bottom of the Patrick Division with a heartbreaking record of 18-53-9 and only 45 points. The 2017-18 playoffs loss doesn’t sting quite so bad now, right?
Meanwhile, the 1982-83 season was part of the halcyon days for the New York Islanders. They finished second in the division and went on to sweep Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers in four games to clinch the Stanley Cup. Their first regular season matchup against the Penguins was an early indication of just how far the Islanders were prepared to skate that season for hockey’s top trophy.
Normally, when I write about Penguins history, I try to cover the fun or the enlightening, not a 9-0 blowout loss to the Islanders from 26 years ago. However, the stat lines from this game were too wild and honestly impressive to pass up. So buckle up, Penguins fans, we’re going back in time to an era before Lemieux or Crosby and before the Penguins’ very first Stanley Cup.
The world of hockey was pretty quiet on October 14, 1982. Hockey was back in full swing, fall had arrived, and it was a new year and new opportunity for many teams, including the Penguins. The Pittsburgh team arrived in New York hoping to capitalize on their win two nights prior against the Vancouver Canucks. October 14 was not to be their night however.
Butch Goring of the Islanders opened up the scoring at 9:43 in the first period. He followed that up seven minutes later with another goal to put the Islanders up 2-0 against the struggling Penguins. Goring would go on to complete a hat trick in the game on only four shots on goal. Watch here as he leaves Greg Hotham of the Penguins in the dust on a breakaway:
The first period was quiet as far as goals and PIM go apart from Goring’s two shorthanded goals. The second period was where the train really began to come off the rails for the Penguins.
Not only did the first fight occur during the second, but the Islanders scored five goals in the span of six and a half minutes. Even more impressive? All five goals were by five different players: Mike McEwen (6:54), Bryan Trottier (7:53), Duane Sutter (10:16), Butch Goring (13:00), and Clark Gillies (13:17). Notice anything about those timestamps? The first two goals were only 59 seconds apart, while the final two were only 17 seconds apart. Clearly, the Islanders had some espresso before the start of the second period.
Pat Price of the Penguins tried to get some momentum infused in his team by dropping the gloves with Duane Sutter just four minutes into the second period, but the effort proved futile. Kevin McClelland attempted to get the Penguins going a second time by squaring off against Stefan Persson at 10:03 in the midst of that spate of goals, but it was to no avail as well. The Penguins would prove unable to capitalize on their 30 shots throughout the night, whereas the Islanders capitalized nine times on 51 shots.
The penalty minutes continued to climb in the third period as the Penguins were down 7-0 and were desperate to get on the board. With just four minutes to go in the third, the Penguins were losing 9-0. At that point, three fights occurred simultaneously as Price squared off with Duane Sutter yet again, while Randy Carlyle and Dough Shedden of the Penguins teamed up against Brent Sutter. The melee on the ice proved ineffective as the Penguins couldn’t get a goal to their name before the final whistle. It’s rare to see three fights occur at once in the modern NHL, but 1982 wasn’t that far removed from the goon squad days of the 1970s. What was unusual was the record number of penalty minutes recorded in the game — 125 for Pittsburgh and 108 for the Islanders for a whopping total of 233 minutes. Evgeni Malkin’s high number of trips to the box seem almost tame compared to that total.
So who were some of the individual winners and losers of this game? The stats further underline the lack of anything to write home about for the Penguins. None of the players recorded a positive plus/minus rating and the (debatable) best rating was 0 for Steve Gatzos, Rod Schutt, and Tim Hrynewich. Who had the worst plus/minus rating? That award goes to Pat Boutette at minus-6. While time on ice isn’t available for this game, I’d be willing to bet that his low rating is due to multiple shifts in the second when those five goals were scored by the Islanders.
Paul Gardner tried the hardest to get the Penguins a point with eight shots on goals, but had nothing to show for it at the end of the game. The biggest contributors to the total PIM for the Penguins were Randy Carlyle (27), Marc Chorney (18) and Doug Shedden (15). Surprisingly, the Penguins did not pull their starting goaltender during the game. Denis Herron remained in net for all three periods and managed to block 42 out of the staggering 51 shots by the Islanders for a save percentage of .824.
So what of the Islanders? Well, Brent Sutter recorded the highest PIM of the game at 39 minutes, which is just mind-boggling by modern standards. It probably doesn’t come as a huge surprise that none of the Islanders recorded a negative plus/minus, and the best plus/minus for the team was plus-5 for Denis Potvin. Billy Smith pulled off a magic trick by turning into a brick wall in front of the net and blocking all 30 shots by the Penguins for a perfect save percentage.
The Islanders turned in an offense-heavy performance throughout the three periods that proved an early indicator of their playoff potential. The Penguins went on to lose their next three games as part of their plummet to the bottom of the Patrick Division. On the bright side, Mario Lemieux joined the flailing team two seasons later and quickly set to work turning things around and it was less than a decade before the team earned its first Stanley Cup.
This game is one that most Penguins fans might want to block from memory and blot from the annals of NHL hockey. However, when compared to the way hockey is played in 2018, this game serves as a great trip back in time to when bulldozing offense, enforcers, and breakaway skaters won the game for teams like the Islanders. That is, until a certain kid with the last name Lemieux made his debut and changed the way hockey was played.