Scoring whiz Zigmund Palffy has shown the Kings another side to
Zigmund Palffy's conscientiousness first revealed itself to Kings
coach Andy Murray in September 1999, during a preseason game
against the Avalanche. Palffy, who had been acquired from the
Islanders in an eight-player trade that summer, lost the puck at
center ice, was tardy backchecking and watched as Colorado scored
a goal. Murray had his speech on defensive responsibility ready,
except that Palffy was chiding himself as he arrived at the
bench. "If I miss pass, I take guy [the trailer] at the blue
line," Palffy, a Slovakian, says. "Instead there's an odd-man
Having seen Palffy berate himself, Murray held his criticism and
sent Palffy back out on his next shift, whereupon he set up a
goal. "I knew he'd make me a smart coach," says Murray.
Now in his second season with Los Angeles, the ultratalented,
28-year-old Palffy--he's one of seven players to have averaged
at least a point per match (1.06) in each of the last five
seasons--has elevated his game to elite status. Through Sunday
he led the league with 35 points while helping the Kings to an
11-7-6-0 record. More important, Palffy, a right wing, had
complemented his sublime skills with the work ethic and
attention to defense that Murray demands. "Your best players
must be your best team players," Murray says. "Team success is
really a yes-no decision that guys like [Mike] Modano, [Joe]
Sakic and [Steve] Yzerman make. When you lose the puck, don't
accept it; go get it, or get your man. Ziggy's been playing with
some edginess top players need."
Other Kings say Palffy is hungrier than he has ever been.
According to Palffy's center and fellow Slovak, Josef Stumpel,
"He gets more p----- when he misses a check." The 5'10",
180-pound Palffy used to be a different kind of hungry. When he
arrived in L.A., teammates were often amused by his big belly.
But since Kings assistant strength and conditioning coach Dave
Good dragged him into the weight room last year, Palffy has
increased his squat from 95 pounds to 245 pounds and decreased
his body fat from 12% to 7%.
Palffy has never been the NHL's fastest skater nor possessed its
hardest shot. He finds defensive seams as well as any forward in
the league, fires one-timers without breaking stride and is
maddeningly tough to cover in transition. His mantra: "Never
skate in the same lane twice and never straight in the
Homesick and confused by the disarray surrounding the Islanders,
Palffy didn't feel at ease during his five-plus seasons with New
York and mostly kept his wry humor to himself. Only after signing
a five-year, $26 million deal in December 1998 did he buy his
first house, complete with pool, tennis court and marble bar. Six
months later the Islanders traded him.
These days Palffy is more comfortable, teaching his teammates
words in his native tongue, but at their peril. Ask him the
Slovak term for sports car and you might get the word for cow
manure. Palffy's feeling more at home doesn't mean he's ready to
buy one. "Maybe win Cup first," he says. "Then buy house."
Slamming the Door Shut
On Nov. 11, after having won just once in his last five games,
Stars goaltender Ed Belfour figured he needed a refresher course.
He sat transfixed for 20 minutes in front of a videotape monitor
and replayed the goals he'd allowed over the past week. "I don't
need anybody telling me what type of game I have to play," said
Belfour, who had led Dallas to the Stanley Cup finals the last
two years, winning in 1999. "When I don't play well, I look at
Belfour saw that he was slightly out of position on some of those
goals, and so he made subtle changes for that night's game
against the Canadiens--and won 2-0. His next three wins were also
shutouts, giving him five in his last eight starts through Sunday
and a league-high six for the season. (He had three more shutouts
than anyone else this year and only one fewer than last season's
leader, Roman Turek of the Blues.) Belfour was on pace to break
the post-1967-68 mark of 15 shutouts in a season, set by Tony
Esposito of the Blackhawks in 1969-70, and had moved past Hall of
Famers Ed Giacomin and Bernie Parent into 14th place alltime,
Belfour's hot streak came at an opportune time for the Stars.
Dallas, which had lost just once in 10 games in November, scored
two goals or fewer in six of those matches. Dallas players, in
fact, admitted that they rely on Belfour to save them. "You get
one for him," forward Brenden Morrow said on Nov. 17, "and he
simply shuts the door."
Dive at Your Own Risk
Now that the NHL has proved that it's serious about cracking
down on slashing infractions (after 342 games, calls for such
violations had increased nearly 100% from the same point last
season), it's trying to rid itself of another ill: players who
dive to the ice in an attempt to draw penalties. Two weeks ago
general managers announced that they had instructed on-ice
officials to call more penalties for flopping, and players seem
to have gotten the message about the warning. Since then,
through Sunday, only one player had been whistled for diving.
Many of the game's shorter, peskier skaters, including the
Rangers' 5'6" Theo Fleury, the Flyers' 5'10" Mark Recchi, the
Predators' 5'8" Cliff Ronning and the Leafs' 5'11" Darcy Tucker,
are often accused of diving, to keep bigger players from
hounding them. When the Thrashers' Ray Ferraro was penalized for
interfering with Ronning in a recent game, Ronning flopped so
blatantly that he was nailed on the same play. "Diving is
cheating," says Wild general manager Doug Risebrough. "The game
suffers for it."
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Palffy, who began weightlifting in Los Angeles, scored 14 goals in the Kings' first 24 games.
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: NHL IMAGES
WHOM WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE?
At 5'9", he overcomes his lack of stature with feistiness and
good hands. Through Sunday he led Chicago in scoring with 21
points, two more than teammate and franchise player Tony Amonte
At 5'8", he overcomes his lack of stature with craftiness and
quick feet. He was third on Boston in scoring with 19 points,
one more than teammate and franchise player Joe Thornton had.
The Verdict: Samsonov, the eighth pick in the 1997 draft, is more
skilled, but Sullivan, the 233rd draft pick in '94, is more
determined, so he's our choice.