SI Vault
 
The NHL
Kostya Kennedy
November 19, 2001
Gold Mettle Mike Richter's strong return in goal boosts U.S. chances at the Salt Lake City Games
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 19, 2001

The Nhl

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2

He should have. Former Tampa Bay coach Steve Ludzik had named him captain—the youngest in NHL history—permitted him to help pick his Uncinates and turned him loose on the ice, but the favored treatment ended when Tortorella took over last January. Tortorella rescinded Lecavalier's freedom and demanded that he be more responsible on defense. Lecavalier responded with uneven play, and late last season, as he battled from injuries en route to a disappointing 51-point output, Tortorella briefly benched him. "Vinny's been on a pedestal since he was 15, but John wants him on the same level as everyone else," says general manager Rick Dudley. "It can't be easy for Vinny."

The difficulty was underscored on Oct. 23 when Tortorella and Lecavalier argued about the center's role in a botched play against the Capitals. (The blowup led to rumors that Lecavalier had demanded a trade, which he and the Lightning deny.) While it seems almost certain that Lecavalier will regain his scoring touch—he had a goal last Saturday in a 3-2 win over the Penguins that improved Tampa Bay to 5-9-1-1—it's also clear his NHL honeymoon, which began when he was selected first in the 1998 draft, has ended. As Dudley says, "Now comes the hard part."

Wild Power Play
From Worst To First

One of this season's most unlikely developments has been the improved power play of the Wild. Through Sunday, Minnesota had scored on an NHL-leading 24.3% of its power-play opportunities, a huge leap from its league-worst 9.6% last year. In the off-season the Wild made unheralded moves that brought it scoring wing Andrew Brunette (as a free agent) and smooth-passing center Sergei Zholtok (in a trade with the Oilers). Both of those journeymen have excelled on tire power play, on which coach Jacques Lemaire deploys four forwards and defenseman Filip Kuba, who mans the point with his 100-mph shot.

The success is especially striking in contrast with the Wild's anemic output at even strength. At week's end Minnesota (6-6-3-1) had scored a remarkable 42% of its total goals on the power play but had been outscored 40-19 in even-man situations. "We're moving the puck with such confidence on the power play that we don't even talk about it," says center Jim Dowd, who along with dynamic forward Marian Gaborik rounds out the Wild's top power-play unit. "It's coming naturally. Now, if we could only get going at five-on-five."

1 2