As someone who has a reasonable degree of familiarity with the situational playoff game results for the 1980s Edmonton Oilers dynasty, from my investigation of Grant Fuhr, I felt compelled to respond to a recent post at Mc79hockey about Glenn Anderson's clutch play.
I disagree with Tyler Dellow's conclusion. There is some pretty good evidence that Glenn Anderson did score more in close games and less in blowouts.
First of all, I'm not sure regular season results matter at all if you are trying to prove somebody is relaxing in less important situations, since somebody who only cared about championships probably thought everything from October to March was less important. Anderson is one of those players that is highly regarded for his playoff performance, and I doubt there are any regular season stats you could pull out that would sway his supporters at all. To me, it makes sense to address this question by looking at playoff performance.
I happen to have the scoring results for Oiler playoff games from 1981-1987 for Gretzky, Kurri, Messier, and Anderson, broken down into results for the first two periods and the third, just like I did for the goaltending numbers. The source is the Hockey Summary Project. Unlike my goalie numbers I haven't gone through the tedious step of double-checking the results, so the totals don't quite match Hockey-Reference, but they are pretty close.
In the first two periods, here is the scoring breakdown:
Wayne Gretzky: 46 goals, 92 assists, 138 points
Jari Kurri: 40 goals, 55 assists, 95 points
Glenn Anderson: 32 goals, 41 assists, 73 points
Mark Messier: 32 goals, 38 assists, 70 points
Now here is third period and overtime:
Wayne Gretzky: 19 goals, 44 assists, 63 points
Mark Messier: 22 goals, 25 assists, 47 points
Glenn Anderson: 20 goals, 24 assists, 44 points
Jari Kurri: 20 goals, 18 assists, 38 points
In the first two periods, Gretzky/Kurri scored 86 goals compared to 64 for Messier/Anderson . In the third period that flipped, and the second line guys actually scored more goals, 42-41. I would assume that Gretzky was double-shifted a lot in the third, since there is much more of a gap between his results and Kurri's. If so, Gretzky may be partially responsible for Messier's and Anderson's results if he played together with them more late in games. However, there is no doubt that Messier and Anderson were much more likely to score in the third period.
That's pretty good evidence for the Anderson fans right there, but the main allegation is that Gretzky piled up the points in blowouts while Anderson did not. To check that, I considered any game where the score differential after two periods is 3 or more goals to be a blowout scenario.
Third periods starting with a score differential of 3+:
Wayne Gretzky: 4 goals, 15 assists, 19 points
Jari Kurri: 9 goals, 5 assists, 14 points
Mark Messier: 5 goals, 2 assists, 7 points
Glenn Anderson: 4 goals, 3 assists, 7 points
What about in close games? Did Anderson's scoring rise? Let's change it to take all third period results that started either tied or with a one goal margin to see how they did in close games:
Third periods starting with a goal differential of 1 or less:
Wayne Gretzky: 10 goals, 20 assists, 30 points
Mark Messier: 9 goals, 17 assists, 26 points
Glenn Anderson: 8 goals, 15 assists, 23 points
Jari Kurri: 8 goals, 7 assists, 15 points
Now, let's convert everything to a per-game rate and summarize Gretzky's scoring vs. Anderson's:
First two periods:
Gretzky: 0.72 GPG, 2.16 PPG
Anderson: 0.50 GPG, 1.14 PPG
Third periods and OT:
Gretzky: 0.59 GPG, 1.97 PPG
Anderson: 0.63 GPG, 1.38 PPG
Third periods in blowouts:
Gretzky: 0.52 GPG, 2.48 PPG
Anderson: 0.52 GPG, 0.91 PPG
Third periods in close games:
Gretzky: 0.61 GPG, 1.84 PPG
Anderson: 0.49 GPG, 1.41 PPG
Looks like both assessments are generally correct (Gretzky cherry-picked more in blowouts, Anderson scored more in tight games). Many people are probably at this point tempted to attribute the gap to effort level or clutch play, but I'm still not sold on that. I think the Oilers simply played to the score, especially Messier's line. They played offensively when tied or behind and defensively when they were well ahead. In my Fuhr post you can see the shot for/against numbers in various situations that support this point. Note that because the Oilers were so good, the blowout numbers consist almost entirely of games where the Oilers were the ones blowing out the opposition. Since all we are measuring here is scoring, somebody who stopped trying when the score is not close would be pretty much indistinguishable from somebody who simply played defensively when their team was way ahead. I think the latter reason is more likely to be the case with professional athletes in playoff situations, but I think media and fans are more likely to come up with the former explanation.
There are still questions that remain about Anderson's HOF status, such as for example whether it was Messier or Anderson who was really driving the results on that line, but that his scoring was situational seems to me to be an open and shut case.