The league's moves to promote more scoring haven't done the trick
When NHL higher-ups decided during the off-season to reconfigure
the ice surface, place stricter regulations on the size of
goaltenders' equipment and reaffirm their dedication to calling
obstruction penalties, they did so with visions of red lights
flashing in their heads. After all, the league was spooked last
season by its 5.3 goals per game average (the lowest in 42
years), a scoring pace that was often as enjoyable to witness as
watching ice melt.
Through Sunday, however, goals were down to 4.9 per game this
season, and an all-points bulletin went out for snipers. "After
the changes people expected 8-7 games," says Senators left wing
Shawn McEachern, "but it's the same guys this season who were
playing last year."
Those guys include longtime minor leaguers whose numbers have
steadily increased as the NHL has expanded from 21 to 27 teams
over the past seven years. Many of them have speed and defensive
ability, but they couldn't slip the puck past a slumbering
dormouse. No hockey skill is as precious as a scorer's touch,
which requires a mix of quickness, precision and calm
calculation in the milliseconds before a shot is unleashed. You
don't find lamplighters in the minors. Today, for every proven
finisher, there are several lines' worth of hardworking guys who
make their bread playing defense.
"Of course expansion dilutes the number of highly skilled
players," says Kings general manager Dave Taylor. "There are
only so many to go around." Los Angeles is one of several teams
expected to have winning seasons despite the lack of a bona fide
The off-season tinkerings haven't gone for naught, however.
Games have better flow, and several teams are weaning themselves
off the trap and taking advantage of the added room behind the
net to force the action with forechecking. Though shots per game
are virtually unchanged from last season at this time--just
under 55 for both teams--scoring chances have increased. "It's
more exciting than it was," says Penguins right wing Jaromir
Jagr, who through Sunday led the league with 15 points. "Maybe
because they're calling penalties more, and there's more space
behind the net."
The changes have helped the game. Unfortunately the new rules
can't make scorers out of scrappers.
Beginning of a Legacy?
Manny Legace, a 5'9", 165-pound, orange-haired goalie for the
Kings who could pass for Richie Cunningham's chubby little
brother, is experiencing some of the happiest days of his life.
At week's end Legace, who was expected to spend this season
playing for Los Angeles's IHL affiliate in Long Beach, had
appeared in seven NHL games and had amassed the league's
second-best save percentage (.955) and fifth-best goals-against
average (1.49). When teammate and Norris Trophy winner Rob Blake
stopped by his locker after a 1-0 loss last week against the
Islanders to say "Good game," Legace grinned with wondrous glee.
"What a rush," he said. "Am I really here?"
His name is pronounced LEG-uh-see, and his NHL legacy is not yet
three weeks old. He was summoned from the minors after Los
Angeles goalies Stephane Fiset and Jamie Storr suffered groin
injuries in a 5-5 tie with the Avalanche on Oct. 18. Legace made
his debut three days later and stopped 49 shots--the most saves
for a debuting goalie in the last 20 years--in a 1-1 standoff
with the Panthers. In his next game he was bowled over by
Lightning center Darcy Tucker and suffered a mild concussion.
"That is the only highlight I've seen of myself," says Legace.
"Me getting hurt."
Legace beat the Hurricanes 3-2 on Oct. 25 for his first win, and
opponents are still trying to take his measure. "I'd like to
know who he is," said Islanders right wing Mariusz Czerkawski
after Legace stopped all four of his shots and 33 of New York's
34 in that 1-0 victory on Oct. 27. "Where's he from?"
The short answer is that Legace, 25, was acquired from the
Hurricanes in July for a conditional draft pick. Though he
suffered in the eyes of scouts because of his size, he was named
the best goalie in the AHL in 1995-96 while playing for the
Springfield Falcons. Before that he was the backup netminder for
Team Canada in the 1994 Olympics.
Legace may be sent back to the minors when Fiset and Storr
return to action, but he has fine lateral movement and positions
himself well, talents that combined with his early success, led
Kings general manager Dave Taylor to muse last week, "Who knows?
Maybe Manny will be around for a while."
Kerry Fraser's Dad
Referees Have Fathers Too
It must be tough for a man whose work subjects him to so much
name-calling to bring his dad to the office. Yet there was
Hilton Fraser, father of 46-year-old Kerry Fraser, the NHL's
most experienced referee, perched in the press box at Nassau
Coliseum as his son officiated an Islanders-Kings game last
week. Hilton, an avid seafarer who has navigated across the
oceans in a sailboat, has ruddy, weathered skin, and with his
cropped white beard he bears strong resemblance to a more famous
Papa--Ernest Hemingway. In 1963 Hilton launched Kerry's career
when, while serving as head of officiating for an amateur league
in Sarnia, Ont., he hired Kerry, then all of 11, as a ref.
Last week Hilton snapped photos of his boy with a pocket-sized
camera, extolled the NHL's experiment with a two-referee
system--"It cuts down on Kerry's skating," he said--and was
unfazed when the crowd began chanting, "Fraser sucks" after it
thought he had missed a call. Said Hilton, "I only hope he
doesn't make a bad call that I can see from here--the kind that
makes me say, 'Oh, Kerry, you've blown that one.'"
COLOR PHOTO: TODD WARSHAW/ALLSPORT No amount of tinkering with the rules of the game can generate new marksmen like Jagr. [Jaromir Jagr and opposing player]
The Heat's On
Right wing, Flyers
No, we're not talking about reports that he was dumped by Pamela
Anderson. But Daigle, who was the No. 1 pick in 1993 but failed
miserably in Ottawa, has been just as disappointing in
Philadelphia since being acquired by the Flyers last January. At
week's end he had only one goal and was -2 this season, and
coach Roger Neilson had been forced to shuffle him between lines
to try to get some production.