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Did Washington and Pittsburgh just play the greatest offensive game of all-time?

Matt Larkin
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Did Washington and Pittsburgh play the greatest offensive game of all-time?

Sidney Crosby. Author: (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Did Washington and Pittsburgh just play the greatest offensive game of all-time?

Matt Larkin
By:

The Caps and Pens treated us to a scoring bonanza Monday, producing 15 goals. Factoring in the current low-scoring era, was this the wildest game ever?

The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins locked horns Monday night under high expectations. The two franchises have become synonymous with high-octane hockey since they debuted Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby 11 years ago. But even by this rivalry's towering standard, Monday's tilt blew us away. Slowly but surely, the game snowballed into must-see TV, stealing eyeballs from The Bachelor. The two teams exploded for 15 goals, including nine in the second period alone, with Pittsburgh pulling out a crazy 8-7 overtime victory.

Any game with 15 goals involving the two biggest talents of the past generation already deserves some hype, but Monday's game is an even more staggering feat when put into context. Plenty of excited tweets suggested the Caps and Pens were putting on a 1980s re-enactment – which is remarkable considering how different the game is today. Scoring is far rarer, goalies much more skilled. Was Monday's game thus the greatest offensive display of all-time, pound for pound, year for year, despite not actually setting a record for the most total goals between two teams?

The Montreal Canadiens beat the Toronto St. Patricks 14-7 Jan. 10, 1920, and the Edmonton Oilers beat the Chicago Blackhawks 12-9 Dec. 11 1985. Those two games share the team goals record of 21. Two games produced 20 goals, once in 1984 and one in 1986, and six games have yielded 19. That rounds out the league's all-time top 10. Here's a closer look, courtesy of The NHL Official Guide & Record Book:

Most goals, both teams one game

21 – Montreal Canadiens 14, Toronto St. Patricks 7, Jan. 10, 1920
21 – Edmonton Oilers 12, Chicago Blackhawks 9, Dec. 11, 1985
20 – Edmonton Oilers 12, Minnesota North Stars 8, Jan. 4, 1984
20 – Toronto Maple Leafs 11, Edmonton Oilers 9, Jan. 8, 1986
19 – Montreal Wanderers 10, Toronto Arenas 9, Dec. 19, 1917
19 – Montreal Canadiens 16, Quebec Bulldogs 3, March 3, 1920
19 – Montreal Canadiens 13, Hamilton Tigers 6, Feb. 26, 1921
19 – Boston Bruins 10, New York Rangers 9, March 4, 1944
19 – Detroit Red Wings 10, Boston Bruins 9, Mar. 16, 1944
19 – Vancouver Canucks 10, Minnesota North Stars 9, Oct. 7, 1983

Fifteen goals puts Monday night's game nowhere near the top 10, but no game from that list has occurred within the past 31 years. It only seems fair to factor in the era. The league-wide goals per game numbers of the seasons represented in the top 10, in order:

9.52 (1919-20)
7.94 (1985-86)
7.89 (1983-84)
7.94 (1985-86)
9.50 (1917-18)
9.52 (1919-20)
8.38 (1920-21)
8.17 (1943-44)
8.17 (1943-44)
7.89 (1983-84)

Those 10 games occurred in the NHL's peak high-scoring glory years. That makes Monday night's game all the more astounding. It occurred in a time of 5.50 goals per game, almost tripling the league average.

So what if we divide 5.50 goals per game by each of the 10 rates above, and multiply that number by the total goals in the record-setting games? The goals scored get adjusted way down:

21 goals in 1919-20 = 12.1 goals in 2016-17
21 goals in 1985-86 = 14.5 goals in 2016-17
20 goals in 1983-84 = 13.9 goals in 2016-17
20 goals in 1985-86 = 13.9 goals in 2016-17
19 goals in 1917-18 = 11.0 goals in 2016-17
19 goals in 1919-20 = 11.0 goals in 2016-17
19 goals in 1920-21 = 12.5 goals in 2016-17
19 goals in 1943-44 = 12.8 goals in 2016-17
19 goals in 1943-44 = 12.8 goals in 2016-17
19 goals in 1983-84 = 13.2 goals in 2016-17

So, based on those adjustments, last night's 15-goal output trumped all the official highest-scoring games of all-time. If we reverse the adjustment, 15 goals in 2016-17 are the equivalent of 25.9 goals in 1919-20.

The math here isn't perfect, as I haven't applied the adjustment to the 18-, 17- and 16- goal games over the years. There are only so many hours in the day. (update: some readers have kindly pointed out the 9-8 game between the Winnipeg Jets and Philadelphia Flyers in 2011, which would take the top spot!) But we can at the very least say Monday's 8-7 barn burner was among the most entertaining and offensively brilliant exhibitions in NHL history.

Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to thn.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin

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Did Washington and Pittsburgh just play the greatest offensive game of all-time?