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 sniper.
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 he action with forechecking. Though shots per game are virtually unchanged from last season at this time—just under 55 for both teams-coring 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."