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Chasing the elusive 5-0
by Jim Iovino, Ace Reporter

Scoring is down throughout the National Hockey League this season. One can look no further for proof than the league-leaders in goal scoring.

Last season at this time, 14 players either scored 50 goals or were close to eclipsing the magic number. By April 2, 1996, Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Alexander Mogilny had scored 64, 60 and 53 goals, respectively. And at the end of the season, a total of eight players hit the back of the net at least 50 times.

However, heading into the day's NHL schedule for April 1, 1997, no player in the league had reached the 50-goal mark. Philadelphia's John LeClair was the closest, with 49 goals in 76 games. But hey, the last time I checked, 49 does not equal 50, except if you're using that new math.

There are several explanations for this lack of goal scoring in the league. The first that comes to mind is, of course, the Heaven's Gate theory. It centers on the fact that a superior race of space goats will be arriving on Earth with the Hale-Bopp Comet. And because of their arrival, they are tinkering with the Earth's rotational spin, causing all NHL snipers to lose their timing.

Now of course, not everyone buys into this theory; especially those who don't watch Sightings on the Sci-Fi Channel. For some reason they need another, more "sensible", explanation. Damn conservatives...

Alright, here goes. Perhaps the lack of goal scoring has to deal with the fact that the league has reached a time of parody, bringing about more clutching and grabbing, which takes away from the pure scoring chances by good goal scorers.

And then there's always the insane goal crease rule theory... But that's all I have to say about that.

But, no matter which theory you choose, the outcome is the same -- goal scoring is down. LeClair, who scored 51 goals last season, is the closest to No. 50 this year, and he will probably get it any game now. But besides the Legionnaire, just seven others have a shot at the honored mark.

Teemu Selanne scored 76 goals during his rookie season in the NHL, but hasn't seen anywhere near that number of goals in a season since. The closest he has come since was the 40 pucks he deposited last season. A huge factor in his lack of productivity was injuries, and ironically, he might lose his chance at 50 this season to injuries, as well. Selanne has 47 tallies this season, but a recent injury has kept him out of the lineup for the past couple games. If the Finnish Flash returns to the lineup immediately, he'll have five games left to score three goals, which are pretty good odds.

Mario Lemieux also needs three goals after scoring once against Florida Monday night. He and teammate Jaromir Jagr, who needs four goals, have six games left to accomplish the feat in back-to-back seasons. Lemieux has five 50-goal seasons to his credit, and is hoping to exit the league with a sixth. His lil' buddy Jagr recorded his first 50-goal campaign last season when he racked up 62 goals. However, the man with the flowing locks was injured for quite some time this season and played in just 59 games. But both Lemieux and Jagr still have good shots to reach the big 5-0, especially since they've been reunited on the dominating line with Ron Francis.

While Lemieux and Jagr represent the league's finesse players, Brendan Shanahan and Keith Tkachuk join LeClair in representing the NHL's power forwards. And like LeClair, Shanahan and Tkachuk have already been inducted into the 50-goal club over the years. Shanahan scored 50 in back-to-back seasons with the St. Louis Blues in 92-93 and 93-94. But Shan the Man has missed the mark the past two seasons, scoring 20 in the strike-shortened 94-95 campaign and 44 last year as a member of the Mighty Whale. He has seven games left this season to score four goals.

Tkachuk scored 50 goals last season with Winnipeg and has the chance to match the feat this year in Phoenix. Despite the up-and-down season the Coyotes have put together this season, Tkachuk has been consistent in his production. He'll have to stay that way in the final two weeks of the regular season to get No. 50. The Dogs have six games left, and Tkachuk needs four goals.

The final two contestants in the race for 50 goals is Ziggy Palffy and Peter Bondra. And if this really was a race, neither would have any trouble reaching the finish line. Bondra and Palffy are two of the fastest skaters in the game today, and have some funky fresh moves, to boot.

Palffy is the only player with a chance to score 50 goals who has never done it before. Ziggy took the league by storm last season when he scored 43 goals and 87 points in 81 games for the lowly New York Islanders. This season Palffy is once again leading the young group of fishermen, but this time he has more confidence. It shows in the stats, because he's already surpassed last year's goal total by notching 44 goals in just 73 games. Palffy has been even hotter of late due to the arrival of Robert Reichel from Calgary. The pair are in the zone right now, so don't be surprised if Ziggy Stardust racks up six goals in his last seven games.

Bondra is looking for a repeat 50-goal performance this season after lighting the lamp 52 times in 67 games last year. There's no doubt Bondra can put the biscuit in the basket. He led the league in goal scoring in 94-95, when he tallied 34 goals in 47 games. And as the Capitals fight for one of the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference this season, Bondra will be counted on to cash in on every opportunity that comes his way. Bondra will need all those chances -- he has just six games to score seven goals.

Name              Team   Games  Goals  Gms.Remain. 50-goal seasons
John LeClair      Phi       75     49          6                 1
Teemu Selanne     Ana       73     47          5                 1
Mario Lemieux     Pit       70     47          6                 5
Brendan Shanahan  Det       73     46          7                 2
Keith Tkachuk     Pho       75     46          6                 1
Jaromir Jagr      Pit       59     46          6                 1
Zigmund Palffy    NYI       73     44          7                 0
Peter Bondra      Was       72     43          6                 1

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