irrefutable photographic evidence of New Jersey Devils general manager Lou
Lamoriello smiling in public, which, in its way, is as stunning as a National
Geographic gatefold of the Loch Ness Monster playing gin rummy with Sasquatch.
The sighting occurred after a Jan. 21 shootout win over the New York Islanders.
"Somebody said I was hurting my image," says Lamoriello, who dresses
with the sobriety of an undertaker. "But I was so happy for [ Zach Parise,
who scored the winning goal], a young fellow who tries so hard, who's had so
much pressure on him. The unfortunate thing is, you forget where you
19 years as the Devils' G.M., he has built three Stanley Cup--winning teams as
well as a no-nonsense reputation. So after New Jersey got off to a dismal start
(finishing December with a 16-18-5 record and in 10th place in the East) and
coach Larry Robinson's health forced him to resign on Dec. 19, Lamoriello took
it upon himself to step in as bench boss. Though he says he's still seeking a
replacement, the search seems to be proceeding as rapidly as O.J.'s hunt for
the real killers. Lamoriello is loath to interfere with a good thing, and
despite two scoreless games in two nights in Florida last week, the Devils
earned standings points in 11 of their past 13 games, winning 10 of them.
In his current
incarnation Lamoriello, a respected coach at Providence College from 1968 to
'83, is coach as CEO--offering individual counsel to his players while
overseeing his lieutenants. Even when the Devils lost five of their first seven
with Lamoriello as coach, players say he was relentlessly positive. "He
keeps guys accountable," says goalie Martin Brodeur, who last week signed a
six-year, $31.2 million contract. "I thought it would be [awkward] at
first, but Lou's attention to detail is amazing. He doesn't miss much."
New Jersey did,
however, miss Patrik Elias, who, after returning on Jan. 3 from a bout of
hepatitis A, led the Devils to a nine-game winning streak and had 16 points in
his first 12 games. New Jersey, now seventh in the conference, has a dangerous
No. 1 line in winger Brian Gionta, center Scott Gomez and Elias--"the most
underrated guy in the league," says Gomez. Meanwhile Brodeur, still
adjusting to the mandated smaller catching glove, has been helped by old-school
New Jersey defense, which was absent during the first 10 weeks of the season;
through Sunday he had four shutouts in his last 13 games and had lowered his
goals-against average to 2.58.
Mr. Lamoriello--Lou--is an intimidating man in the hockey world," says
Gomez. "When a presence like that is on the bench, it gets your
Scoring Rise in
Conference has holstered its reputation for run-and-gun hockey. Through Sunday
nine of the NHL's 10 leading scorers were from the East. The other, San Jose's
Joe Thornton, had scored 33 of his 67 points in Boston before being traded. The
balance may have been tilted by new coach Bryan Murray's loosening the reins in
Ottawa, the offensive talent in Atlanta and the presence of rookie Alexander
Ovechkin in Washington, but Thornton sees another change. "Some teams in
the West play a 1-4," he says of the passive forechecking scheme, first
cousin of the offense-stifling neutral-zone trap. "You don't see it as much
in the East."
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power rankings, go to SI.com/NHL.