2002-01-05 / Sports

Facing Off Into The New Year: Metro Hockey Update

By Andrei Petrovitch

Facing Off Into
The New Year:
Metro Hockey Update
By Andrei Petrovitch

The holidays have some peculiar traditions. Take stockings, for instance. Stockings? Why do we have to hang up stockings for Christmas? I don’t recall hearing about stockings in Sunday school!!!

Come to think of it, hockey has some weird customs. The image of men wearing short pants over knee-high socks is something I don’t think I’ll ever understand. Oh well…with that in mind, here’s a look at the locals at the midway point of the season:

The New York Rangers

Formerly a collection of overpaid embarrassments, the Rangers have transformed themselves into a collection of legitimate (but still overpaid) hockey players. The addition of Eric "it’s a headache, not a concussion" Lindros has brought a new identity to team that lacked the very elements Lindros possesses and utilizes namely, skating, hitting, and scoring. The deal that brought him over from the Philadelphia Flyers is being regarded as the steal of the year; in fact, one of the players the Rangers had traded to the Flyers for Lindros (speedy left winger Jan Hlavac) has already been dealt to another team!

However, while the team is much tougher and faster, problems still abound. The team is dominant at even strength but struggles mightily on the special teams. The penalty killing and power play rank near the bottom of the league, which is simply inexcusable considering the talent the team possesses. If the Rangers are not careful, this inconsistency will bite them back in the ass hard during the playoff drive.

In the New Year, expect:

At least one trade that will clear up the roster crowding in the defenseman position (Igor Ulanov for a used jockstrap? Anyone? Anyone?…)

Don’t expect:

Yet another big name player to arrive, despite the constant demand from Madison Square Garden hierarchy for the organization to operate in the present tense and win now.

The New York Islanders

Ouch! Don’t look now, but the injury list is starting to get longer. Most of the names on the list belong to the Islander’s defense, which has been instrumental to the team’s winning record. Blueliners Kenny Jonsson (concussion), Roman Hamrlik (knee sprain), and Radek Martinek (torn knee ligament) are big losses for the team. As a result, the Isles have had to rely on younger defensemen, such as prospect Branislav Mezei, to fill the holes. It is with these roster adjustments that the Achilles heel of the Isles is exposed, as the team’s relative youthfulness has led to mistakes made from simple inexperience. Mezei, in particular, sometimes wanders a bit from in front of his own net-, which, in turn, has exposed goalie Chris Osgood to more close rebounds shots in recent games.

The strength of the Islanders lies with the forwards, who have performed consistently well all season. Alexei Yashin has scored 19 goals, including the overtime game winner in the 6-5 shootout against the Canadiens on Dec. 29. Mike Peca continues to lead the team in assists (21) and shorthanded goals (4).

In the New Year, expect:

General Manager Mike Milbury to trade for another defenseman. Possibilities include Lyle Odelein of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Tom Poti of the Edmonton Oilers and, of course, prodigal son Darius Kasparaitus of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Don’t expect:

A sniper like Tony Amonte (Chicago Blackhawks) or Bill Guerin (Boston Bruins) to arrive; the cost to acquire one or both would despite the team of useful depth players.

The New Jersey Devils

It seems as if the Devils’ reign as the superior NY metro area hockey team is coming to an end. That said, reports of the under-achieving team’s demise may be greatly exaggerated.

Although the Rangers and Islanders are ahead in the standings, the Devils are still a solid team defensively and still boast one of the league’s best goalies in Martin Brodeur. However, their offensive play continues to, well, offend. In response, the Devils are utilizing young forward Pierrre Dagenais to address their scoring woes. Pierre who?

All is not lost. Patrick Elias leads the team with 15 goals, defenseman Brian Rafalski has team high 21 assists, and Bobby Holik has been dominant both in the face-off circle and in the corners. But star centerman Scott Gomez and Jason Arnott have been for the most part ineffective. Neither playmaker has much to work with; aside from Elias and right winger Petr Sykora, the team lacks finishers who can put the puck into the back of the enemy net with any sort of a consistency. Last I checked, Gomez was playing on a line with Sergei Nemchinov, who once scored 30 goals…ten years ago.

In the New Year, expect:

General Manage Lou Lamoriello to not panic. The team is only 8 points out of the last playoff spot in the east. To truly dominate, however, the team must deal for a proven scorer eventually at the March trade deadline. Otherwise, serious talk of the Stanley Cup is laughable.

Don’t expect:

The team to stand pat while Washington, Philadelphia, and Toronto go higher in the standings.

Happy New Year- and don’t forget to tighten your chinstrap!

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