2002-12-07 / Sports

Holiday Thanks and Wishes: A Metro Hockey Update

Hockey Columnist
By Andrei Petrovitch

Hockey Columnist

The holidays have come back to annoy us again. Sure, Thanksgiving was fun, but there’s only so much turkey a human being can consume before swearing off poultry forever. And then there’s Christmas, which isn’t much fun after the age of 12. Gone are the days when Santa would bring you a G.I. Joe battle tank or the hot new Sega Genesis game. Now, as an adult, you’re grateful if you just get a nose-hair trimmer and another pair of purple slipper socks.

But yours truly is not here to complain about how depressing the holidays become in the years after college. No, I’m here to tell you what each Metro area hockey team should be thankful for this season and what ought to be on their respective wish lists:

THE NEW YORK ISLANDERS

(9-13-3-0):

SHOULD BE THANKFUL FOR: The organization’s goaltending depth. Starter Chris Osgood (7-9-2 in 19 games, .884 save percentage) struggled mightily in the early going. However, he has played well as of late. On December 3, Osgood made 25 saves in a 2-1 win against a strong Vancouver Canucks team that had won its previous 10 games. After the game, Osgood was named 3rd star.

Wait a minute. The team should be thankful for OSGOOD, you ask? A goalie that couldn’t stop a beach ball a few weeks back?!?!? No, the Update has not started a new drug habit: it is the depth of goaltending that the team should be thankful for. Backup Garth Snow has a respectable .914 save percentage, and the team has Rick DiPietro, a former First-Overall draft pick and projected future star in the minor leagues.

This depth gives the team flexibility to seek…

WHAT THEY SHOULD ASK SANTA FOR: More depth at defense and at forward. Widely circulated rumors indicate that teams have inquired about each of the aforementioned goaltenders in trade talks. The Philadelphia Flyers are allegedly interested in Osgood and are reportedly offering defenseman Dan McGillis, who would be an excellent addition to a strong (albeit injury-prone) blueline corps. The pressing need, however, is at the forward positions, which can use an infusion of speed and offensive creativity.

THE NEW YORK RANGERS (12-12-4-0):

SHOULD BE THANKFUL FOR: Production from players other than Pavel Bure and Eric Lindros. While those two were slumping, second and third-line centers Petr Nedved and Mark Messier, respectively, were able to pick up some of the offensive slack by contributing 10 goals each. Blueliner Tom Poti leads the team with 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in 27 games. Timely goals have also come from a variety of unlikely sources, such as tough guys Dale Purinton and Matthew Barnaby. Now that Lindros and Bure have started to elevate their level of play, the Rangers are becoming more competitive.

However, we shouldn’t hand over the Prince of Wales trophy just yet. The Rangers are, at press time, only a .500 team. Part of the reason is injury; goalie Mike Richter has been suffering from concussion problems and Bobby Holik has missed more games from a sore hip-flexor this year than his previous five seasons combined. Ouch!

WHAT THEY SHOULD ASK SANTA FOR: A strong left-winger to play with Lindros and a reliable goaltender to serve as backup goalie Dan Blackburn’s, uh, backup. The team may already have the former in the system. Sandy McCarthy has, in a temporary role at least, played well on the Big E’s wing, and Rem Murray (as reported in the last Update column) has most certainly contributed. However, the goaltending situation is a different story, as the 19-year old Blackburn will need a rest sooner or later in order to stay sharp.

Hey, maybe they can get Osgood on the cheap! Nah, just kidding. Really.

THE NEW JERSEY DEVILS (14-6-1-1):

SHOULD BE THANKFUL FOR: That good old-fashioned Devils defense. Coach Pat Burns has a reputation for being a strict disciplinarian, and you can be sure that in practice, no one dares to screw up a defensive drill. The boot-camp mentality is working: with their record, the Devils are atop the Atlantic division with 30 points. Goalie Martin Brodeur has been his usual phenomenal self (13-6-1, .918 save %, 2.08 Goals Against Average). Checking forward John Madden is 12th in the league in plus/minus differential with a solid +11 rating. Yup, there’s very little to be picky about on this team…but since it’s my job to be picky, I’ll mention that the team could use…

WHAT THEY SHOULD ASK SANTA FOR: More offensive output from Joe Nieuwendyk. Two goals and eight assists so far on the season? A minus three rating?

Yikes! This was a guy who scored 30 or more goals in a full season eight times in his career. At this pace, he’ll be lucky to have 10. Here’s hoping that one of hockey’s class acts can find his game again.


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