For the moment he's another star on a New York roster that includes the 40-year-old Messier and Norris Trophy defenseman Brian Leetch, but Lindros's name will soon be above the marquee. The Rangers know it; they elected him an alternate captain after their pregame skate last Friday. They have embraced him off the ice—Messier, Lindros's boyhood idol, hosted Lindros at his Manhattan brown-stone for three weeks while Lindros looked for his own place—and, more important, on the ice. When New York Islanders goalie Garth Snow elbowed Lindros in a preseason game, Rangers enforcer Dale Purinton rushed to his defense, earning a four-game suspension. "He'll be hit. There's not a player in the game who isn't," Sather says of Lindros, "but if you cheap-shot Eric, you'll pay."
Sather was roundly criticized in New York for trading three young players (forwards Jan Hlavac, 25; Pavel Brendl, 20; and defenseman Kim Johnsson, 25) for a Blue Cross All-Star—albeit one whose 1.356 points-per-game average was second only to Mario Lemieux's among active players. Lindros, though, turned heads and maybe changed some minds on Sunday in his home debut, a 5-4 overtime win over the Buffalo Sabres. He scored on a power-play rebound for his first goal in more than 16 months. He held off a check by center Tim Connolly and nudged a pass to new linemate Andreas Johansson for a goal as time expired in the second period. He cycled the puck down low and threw his considerable weight around. In the dressing room after having been crunched into the glass by Lindros late in the first period, Sabres defenseman Jay McKee asked partner Rhett Warrener, "How much do you think a body can be squished?"
If this wasn't vintage Lindros, it was only because, as Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff suggested, Lindros still needs more game conditioning. He will get plenty, assuming he holds his head up as proudly as everyone else in New York.