What a difference almost a quarter century makes in the NHL. On December 9, 1933, Montreal Canadiens center Howie Morenz only needed 246 goals to tie for all-time lead goal-scorer. Exactly 23 years later, in 1956, Detroit Red Wings Gordie Howe needed 324 to tie for second. Interestingly, despite both player’s achievement, both of their teams lost to the New York Rangers 4-2.
Howie Morenz, star center for the Canadiens since 1923, had a goal for goals. After 11 seasons with the Ottawa Senators and a final season with the Boston Bruins in 1928-29, Cy Denneny retired with 247 goals, the most in the NHL. In actuality, the NHL and other statistical sites cannot seem to agree on how many goals Denneny had and thus when Morenz tied and surpassed him. Morenz scored goals on December 9, 14, and 23 in 1933 that helped him become the top goal-scorer in NHL history to that point. On December 9, Morenz scored at 3:07 in the second period and was followed by a teammate scoring in the third. The Canadiens still lost to the visiting Rangers 4-2. On December 14, Morenz scored the first goal of the game in a 2-0 shutout against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. In addition to no goals for the Leafs, no penalties were called. On December 23, Morenz scored the last goal in the final minute of the 3-0 shutout against the visiting Detroit Red Wings. When he died (following an on-ice collision) in 1937, Morenz had a career total of 271 goals.
A little over 20 years later, Gordie Howe, the most famous right wing of the Detroit Red Wings, chased the still-active Maurice “Rocket” Richard, the Canadiens’ most-famous right wing. On December 9, 1956, Howe scored “on a 12-foot blast” at 11:31 of the first period, but his team could not catch up to the Rangers. As the article published in the Detroit Free Press bemoaned, “Even a ‘milestone’ goal by Gordie Howe failed to help the Detroiters. Howe scored once, the 324th goal of his 11-year career. That tied him with the retired Nels Stewart as the second highest goal scorer in NHL history. The leader is Rocket Richard, still 143 ahead of Howe with his current total of 467.” It was not until November 10, 1963 that Howe finally passed Richard (who had retired in 1960) in goals scored. Howe scored his 545th goal on a penalty kill against the visiting Canadiens, of all teams. “Mr. Hockey” finished his NHL career with 801 goals, which did not even count all the goals he scored playing for the WHA.
- “Rangers Defeat Canadiens, 4-2, on Montreal Ice,” New York Daily News, 10 Dec. 1933, p. 101.
- “Red Wings Drop Second Straight Road Game, 4-2,” Detroit Free Press, 10 Dec. 1956, p. 41-42.