Not Like Old Times
In his return to Philadelphia, an ice-cold and tentative Eric Lindros avoided the fray
After an hour of nonstop drills during practice last Friday in Rye, N.Y., a weary Eric Lindros walked into the Rangers' mostly empty dressing room to find a two-man camera crew at his locker. "Weren't you guys here yesterday?" Lindros asked with a sigh before explaining, broken-record fashion, that his return to Philadelphia on the next day was small potatoes. "It's going to be great hockey," Lindros said. "There's a lot more going on than the sideshow."
As it happened, Lindros's first game in Philadelphia since he was traded to New York last August for three players and a draft pick—a match marked by a pregame scuffle between the Rangers' Matthew Barnaby and the Flyers' Donald Brashear, and punctuated with seven fights and 106 penalty minutes—was truly carnivalesque, more Coney Island than Broad Street. Step right up, don't be shy, come see the Bearded Lady, the Juggling Dwarfs and the Invisible Center!
Were it not for the raucous boos that greeted his every touch of the puck during Philly's 4-2 victory and the signs labeling Lindros COWARD and TRAITOR, one would have been hard-pressed to tell that the 6'4", 236-pound center was on the ice. As he has been during a monthlong cold spell in which he suffered a sprained right knee and his seventh concussion, Lindros was tentative and ineffective, getting off three harmless shots and no hits in 21:18. (In the six games he had played since Dec. 15 Lindros had only two points and was-2.) Says Flyers winger Mark Recchi, "Eric has to be careful. If he takes runs at players and tries to make hits, they're going to take runs at him. If he stays on the perimeter the way he has been, he'll stay clear of those hits."
While it's hard to dispute that careful play will spare him a lot of punishment, Lindros creates havoc by banging bodies. But when he's avoiding contact, his playmaking is limited. Perhaps the biggest casualty of his timid approach has been New York's power play, which at week's end was 1 for its last 31 and ranked 27th in the league. In part to protect him from taking a beating in front of the net, coach Ron Low last week moved Lindros to the point on the first unit, leaving 5'6", 180-pound Theo Fleury to stir things up in the crease.
It's becoming clear that as Lindros goes, so go the Rangers. After starting the season 17-9-2-1 (Lindros had 13 goals and 17 assists during that period), New York had gone 5-10-1-2 through Sunday and slipped from first place to third in the Atlantic Division, six points behind Philadelphia. "We're on track work-ethic-wise, but we just can't score," says defenseman Brian Leetch. "Because we're not scoring, every breakdown is bigger, every mistake is magnified."
Leetch's analysis was borne out by last Saturday's game-winner: Flyers left wing John LeClair shoved defenseman Dave Karpa out of position at 5:51 of the third in a 2-2 game, allowing defenseman Kim Johnsson, one of the players Philadelphia obtained for Lindros, to waltz in untouched and wrist his seventh goal of the season, over goal-tender Mike Richter's glove.
Lindros may be happy to have, at least temporarily, put the Philadelphia circus behind him—"Hopefully, this is the last time we have to meet like this," he told the 50 or so media members who assembled for his postgame press conference—but the problems in his and the Rangers' games have become chronic.
Forsberg's Aborted Return
No Joy in Colorado
Last week the Avalanche was set to announce the triumphant return of star center Peter Forsberg, who hasn't played since undergoing an emergency splenectomy during last season's playoffs. On Jan. 9, however, Forsberg, who has spent five months convalescing in his native Sweden, learned during a physical that he would need season-ending surgery to repair tendon damage in his left foot, a painful condition that he's struggled with since last season. "We were blind-sided," says G.M. Pierre Lacroix. "Peter was skating and improving every day. We expected him to play—we were discussing when would be the right time for him to come back."