SI Vault
 
OH LA LA!
Austin Murphy
January 22, 1990
Pat LaFontaine is leading the feisty Islanders to their former heights in the NHL
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
January 22, 1990

Oh La La!

Pat LaFontaine is leading the feisty Islanders to their former heights in the NHL

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
PATRICK DIVISION NOV. 29
 

W

L

T

PTS

New York Rangers

13

8

4

30

New Jersey Devils

11

10

3

25

Philadelphia Flyers

11

10

3

25

Pittsburgh Penguins

9

13

2

20

Washington Capitals

8

11

4

20

New York Islanders

5

18

3

13

David Chyzowski scored 56 goals for the Kamloops Blazers of the Western (Junior) Hockey League last season. Since then he has turned 18 and joined the New York Islanders. Chyzowski was put on this earth to create offense, not jack people's jaws. Yet there he was, on Jan. 10 at Maple Leaf Gardens, steaming across the ice and spoiling for a piece of Toronto defenseman Brian Curran, who, at 6'3" and 215 pounds, is on this earth—and the Maple Leafs' payroll—to jack people's jaws. Moments earlier, Curran had deposited New York center Pat LaFontaine on the seat of his drawers. As Chyzowski saw it, Curran was guilty of two offenses: failing to pick on someone his own size—LaFontaine is 5'10", 177 pounds—and endangering the Islanders' playoff hopes. LaFontaine had had a hand in 59 of his team's 148 goals this season. At all costs, he must be protected.

The linesmen never did let Chyzowski and Curran tangle. For their ill intentions, however, both were ejected. "All I did was bump him a little," Chyzowski grumbled.

Chyzowski's reaction to Curran's decking of LaFontaine reflected a team-wide trend. These Islanders fight back when they get sand kicked in their faces. That has helped them start another, more shocking trend: winning. New York went on to beat Toronto 3-1, and after Saturday's 4-2 victory over the Washington Capitals, the Islanders had won six straight games, 11 of their last 12 and 15 of their last 19. They were far and away the hottest team in the NHL.

While their newfound toughness is paying dividends, the principal reason for New York's resurgence is LaFontaine, who, at the age of 24, has ascended to the level of play that began to be predicted for him eight years ago, when he scored 175 goals in 79 games for the Detroit Compuware Midgets. His 39 goals at week's end put him two behind league leader Brett Hull of the St. Louis Blues. LaFontaine's failure to score in the win over Washington ended an 11-game goal-scoring streak.

LaFontaine has not exactly sneaked up on anyone. He did, after all, score a total of 92 goals in 1987-88 and 1988-89. But by all accounts, he has found a higher gear. "He's reached another plateau in the last 20 games," says Islander left wing Don Maloney. "Every time he touches the puck, we all sit up a little straighter and hold our breath."

"The premier players, like Gretzky, always seem to score when you need it," says Islander goaltender Glenn Healy. "They get important goals. Not goals that make a 5-1 game 5-2, but goals that tie games and win them. Those are the kinds of goals Patty is scoring for us this season."

Not coincidentally, LaFontaine kicked into overdrive around the time the Trade was made. That's how the Islanders refer to it: the Trade.

"Ever since the Trade, everyone on the team has been playing as if he's four inches taller and 25 pounds heavier," says left wing Randy Wood. Like most of the Islanders, Wood talks about the Trade the way New Yorkers refer to Manhattan as "the City" and tourists at Graceland discuss "the King"—as if the term is self-explanatory.

For those who haven't followed the Islanders' Jekyll-and-Hyde season, here are the particulars of the deal. On Nov. 29, general manager Bill Torrey sent right wing Mikko Makela to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Ken Baumgartner and checking center Hubie McDonough. The once-potent Makela had become an underachieving sulkmeister in New York; Baumgartner and McDonough had languished unused with the Kings.

Before the Trade, the Islanders were 5-18-3 and working out a time-share arrangement with the Quebec Nordiques for the NHL cellar. Post-Trade they were 15-3-1 through Sunday and in second place in the Patrick Division. Most important, unlike the Islanders of a year ago, this team is very much in the playoff hunt.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4