Goals, Guts and Glory: An NHL Review
By Andrei Petrovitch
What a season! Well, so far, anyway. The Islanders have exceeded all rational expectations by going 10-0-1-1 in their first 12 games. The Rangers and Devils, after slow starts, are starting to claw their way up the standings. Here’s a look at the positives and negatives of each team so far this season.
THE NEW YORK RANGERS
Positives: although their cheesy name sounds like a rejected character from Top Gun, the FLYBOYS line of Theo Fleury, Eric Lindros, and Mike York have been putting up the points and winning games for the Broadway Blueshirts. Lindros in particular is starting to put his huge (6’ 5", 245 Lbs.) frame to good use by parking himself firmly in the enemy’s goal crease. His physical play in turn creates more space for speed skating smurfs Fleury and York. Ruffian Wingers Sandy McCarthy and Steve McKenna have done a good job in preventing (and punishing any opposing players who dare take any physical liberties with any of the FLYboys. Veteran Mike Richter and his teenaged apprentice, Dan Blackburn have provided solid goaltending…
Negatives: .…in front of a cheesy defense. Although the team’s poise in the defensive zone has improved, newjacks Igor Ulanov and Bryan Berard continue to look shaky. Despite their newfound toughness, the Rangers are still not very assertive in either clearing the front of their goal net or simply getting the puck out of their zone. This has lead to several blown leads and quite a bit of late game fingernail biting.
The New York Islanders
Positives: Where to begin? How about forward Mark Parrish, who leads the league in goals at press time? Or Captain Mike Peca, who’s proving to be as great a threat offensively as he is defensively? Or Goalie Chris Osgood, who after being discarded by Detroit was named NHL Player of the Month for October (due to his impressive 1.90 goals against average)?
Coach Peter Laviolette is starting to prove the skeptics wrong with his balanced lines, and General Manager Mike Milbury has earned a stay of execution with his darling off-season moves. Equally impressive is the performance of star center Alexei Yashin, who is averaging a point a game. With defenseman Roman Hamrlik firing howitzer blasts from the point, and checker Claude Lapointe grinding away in the corners, the Islanders are off to their best start in history.
Negatives: You read it here last time - winger Mariuz Czerkawki has to light the lamp often to guarantee that the early season momentum lasts. So far, he’s been underwhelming in that respect. It may not be a big deal now, but if Czerkawski goes into a prolonged slump, the team had better pray none of its other forwards get injured. Also amusing is Coach Laviolette’s use of three lines and four defensemen for many games. If he ain’t careful, then the aforementioned injuries will occur due to overexhaustion.
By the way, can someone explain why the team was interested in obtaining finesse defenseman Tomas Kaberle from the Toronto Maple Leafs? Sure, Kaberle (who has rejoined the Leafs after a contract dispute) is a fine young player, but is another point-man needed for this team? A bruising blueliner is probably more appropriate. Prodigal son Darius Kasparaitus anyone?
The New Jersey Devils
Positives: After a sluggish start, the Devils have started to reassert themselves in their division. The recent home-and-home series against Toronto serves as evidence. The recent home and home series against Toronto serves as evidence. In that series, New Jersey showed the toughness that has allowed it to win two Stanley Cups in the last five years. Patrick Elias is, pardon the pun, on fire with 12 goals in 10 games. Although his 2.69 goals against average seems pretty average, even poor by his high standards, Martin Brodeur is finding his game again, with 7 wins and 1 tie in his last 10 games. Brian Rafalski is averaging a point a game and is seriously threatening Scott Steven’s franchise record of 78 points by a defenseman in a season, set in 1994.
Negatives: Will the real Bobby Holik please stand up? Is it the Holik that is winning a league leading 61% of his faceoffs and playing an effective two way game? Or the Holik that has been rather average (heck, invisible even) during the first month of the season? As good as Patrick Elias and Jason Arnott are, the two of them cannot do it alone; the team needs Holik (and Scott Gomez, for that matter) to contribute offensively on a consistent basis. Otherwise, the off-season decision to not re-sign 40 goal scorer Alexandre Mogilny will really come back to haunt them.