- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
LeClair's renaissance began in July, after minor surgery to remove scar tissue in his lower back revealed a herniated disk, which was partially removed. The disk had been pinching a nerve, causing weakness in LeClair's legs. A diligent summer of rehabilitation strengthened his lower body, a critical element in his game. "I can move better," says the 33-year-old LeClair, "and I'm more pain-free."
In the meantime LeClair, Recchi and play-making center Jeremy Roenick have been a pain for opponents. Put on the same line against the Flames on Oct. 12, they sparked a three-goal, third-period comeback as Philly won 5-4. Since then 10 of the team's 15 goals through Sunday had come with all three on the ice. Says coach Ken Hitchcock, "That line is dangerous, especially when they're all working as hard as they're working now. They're not playing just a skill game, they're playing a hardworking game."
Effects of Rules Changes
Primarily because the NHL was making good on its off-season pledge to call all obstruction fouls, teams were averaging a combined 37.4 penalty minutes and 12.3 power plays per game after the first two weeks of the season—a dramatic increase over last season's numbers, 30.4 and 8.3. Also, the number of power-play goals per game was 2.13, up from 1.30 in 2001-02. (Not surprisingly, there were only five shutouts through the league's first 76 games, compared with nine a year ago.)
While players adjust to the new officiating standards, teams are taking measures to beef up their special teams. Last season the Coyotes converted only 15.6% of their power plays, and in anticipation of the effects of the crackdown, they hired as a consultant future Hall of Famer Paul Coffey, who quarter-backed some of the league's most prolific man-up units. The increase in power plays is forcing clubs to use more players on their penalty-killing units to avoid burnout and so they won't have regulars stuck on the bench for long stretches.
"I think more teams now have almost three units of penalty killers and try to keep them fresh," says Canadiens assistant coach Guy Charron. "The challenge is to involve more people on the special teams and to get some consistency."
Calling more obstruction penalties and instituting the hurry-up face-off rule not only has increased scoring, but it has also noticeably shortened game times. The season's first 76 matches lasted an average of 2 hours, 21 minutes, compared with 2:37 through the same point last year. On Oct. 15 the Oilers and the Stars, two of the NHL's better skating clubs, completed their match in 2:05, at one point going nine minutes without a whistle. What's more, pulling the average game time under 2� hours significantly enhances the game's TV appeal, and with the ABC- ESPN national broadcast package expiring after the 2003-04 season, the league's timing couldn't be better.