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AMONG THE smattering of older stars having subpar seasons—the Devils' Joe Nieuwendyk, 36, and the Ducks' Adam Oates, 40, to name two—no player has flopped as badly as 36-year-old Luc Robitaille of the Red Wings. Robitaille, whose soft hands and touch around the net have helped him score more goals than any other left wing in NHL history (624 through Sunday), had just four in 49 games this season. Robitaille, who scored 30 goals in 2001-02, hadn't tallied in 18 straight games, the longest dry spell of his career. Says Canucks general manager Brian Burke, "Luc is snakebitten. Nothing is happening for him."
In an attempt to get Robitaille back on track, Detroit coach Dave Lewis has shuffled him around the lineup, using him on a top line with center Sergei Fedorov, stationing him in the crease on the power play and even flipping him to right wing. But Robitaille has mainly toiled on the fourth line, averaging 13:54 of ice time per game, eighth among Red Wings forwards. On Jan. 16, Lewis even scratched Robitaille, the first time he had been benched in 1,250 NHL games. Says Robitaille, "That was the hardest thing in my career."
Neither speedy nor physical, the 6'1", 215-pound winger has taken a workmanlike approach to ending his slump. "I've been trying to do all the little things," he says. "Trying to get open, being more patient and going in the corners as hard as I can. When I don't score, what I try to do is go back to basics. I change my game, become like a grinder. When I was playing 20 minutes a game, [good] things would end up happening. But when you're only playing 13 or 14 minutes a game, it's not the same, because you don't get as many chances."
It took Bruins general manager Mike O'Connell four months to trade holdout defense-man Kyle McLaren, but the return was worth the wait. In last Thursday's three-team swap among Boston, Montreal and San Jose (which got McLaren), O'Connell came away with veteran goalie Jeff Hackett (from the Canadiens) and promising defenseman Jeff Jillson (from the Sharks).
From Dec. 10 through last Thursday, Bruins goalies Steve Shields, Andrew Raycroft and John Grahame (who was traded to the Lightning on Jan. 13) had a 3.33 goals-against average and an .880 save percentage as Boston went 5-14-2-0. In his Bruins debut last Saturday, Hackett blanked the Flyers 1-0 and improved his save percentage to .929, the league's third best. The most intriguing player in the deal for Boston, however, may be the 22-year-old Jillson, a 6'3", 220-pound former first-round draft pick. Says O'Connell, "Jillson is a big, strong, young defenseman who skates well, and we believe hell develop into a top-four NHL defenseman."