Scoring whiz Zigmund Palffy has shown the Kings another side to his game
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 Slovalkian, says. "Instead there's an odd-man rush!"
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 middle—always angles."
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 the tapes."