Eastern Conference Round-up These guys just can’t stand prosperity. With the East-leading Devils in disarray, the Leafs took a week off, the Caps made up some ground, and the Flyers are still paying for their 0-5-1 season start. In the bottom of the draw, it’s OK for a nice guy to lay the lumber on a goon, Ottawa faces an uphill run, Buffalo seems to have found an answer, and the grittiest team in hockey may be the Montreal Canadiens.
Next week, the West.
The Mogilny Watch
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
75GP, 42W, 25L, 5OTL, 8T, 97P
Robby Ftorek gets fired, and Alexander Mogilny scores his first goal. Coincidence?
Mogilny, who has coasted on his reputation for eight years, arrived in Jersey on trade-day, promising to shred the East with flashy skating and precision shooting. The establishment hockey press nodded approvingly, and agreed as one that Mogilny would right the slumping Devils.
In his first three games, however, Mogilny registered just two assists and the Devils continued their late-season spiral (5-10-1 since Feb. 19).
That was more than Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello could stand. Ftorek obviously had to go. He’d only guided the Devils to an 88-49-19 record in his two years behind the bench. Ftorek’s out, Assistant Coach Larry Robinson’s in.
What a move! With Robinson calling the shots, Mogilny got on the board, scoring the eighth and final goal in Jersey’s 8-2 whupping of the New York Islanders (Friday, 3/24).
They All Count, Fellas
74GP, 39W, 23L, 3OTL, 12T, 93P
The next time somebody says don’t worry about early-seasons losses because there’s a lot of games to play, you can be sure you are talking with someone who isn’t very bright.
The Flyers, for instance, started this season 0-5-1. If they had won just two of those games (say the shutout the Carolina Hurricanes hung on them and Montreal’s 5-4 win) and beaten instead of tied Boston, guess what? The New Jersey Devils would be chasing the Black-and-Orange for the top spot in the East.
All the other top seeds got off to pretty good season starts. Jersey, 4-1-1; Toronto, 4-2-0; and Washington, 2-3-1. In the West: St. Louis, 3-3-0; Colorado, 2-3-1; Los Angeles, 4-1-1; and Detroit, 4-1-1.
The benefits of leaving your gloves on
74GP, 40W, 23L, 1OTL, 11T, 92P
The Caps continue to be the hottest team in the League and now look like the best candidate to overtake the New Jersey Devils for the top spot in the East.
All the talk last week was about Olaf Kolzig (2.22GAA, 37W, 18L, 10T). Sure, it’s nice to have a hot goalie going into the playoffs, but the real story in Washington is Chris Simon. The former tough-guy has quietly turned into the Caps leading goal scorer (28G/19A/47P). In his last 6GP, he posted 5P (3G/2A) while registering only 6PIM.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
74GP, 40W, 27L, 3OTL, 7T, 90P
At least the New Jersey Devils have one thing going for them: Nobody (except maybe the Caps) wants to win the Eastern Conference.
While the Devils were sorting out a coaching change and the suspension of D Scott Neidermayer for the rest of the regular season, the Leafs took a week off, losing to bottom-feeders Chicago, Atlanta, and the Islanders.
The Leafs finished their 1-4-0 week with a loss to Division rival Ottawa, letting the Senators pull within three points of them.
The Hard Way
73GP, 37W, 25L, 2OTL, 11T, 87P
If Vinny Prospal and the Sens are going to make a run at the Leafs, they are going to have to do it the hard way.
They finish the season against Washington (twice), Philadelphia, Florida, St. Louis (the best team in the league), and Montreal (the grittiest team in the league).
The Sens can probably pick up points with a home-and-home against Tampa Bay, and one against the Islanders, but they are going to have to play their A-Game from here on out if they want home-ice advantage in the first round.
Another team, another chance
75GP, 31W, 34L, 3OTL, 10T, 75P
C Chris Gratton appears to be intent on shedding his reputation as an overpaid underachiever. Since being acquired on Trade Day, Gratton has scored 1G/6A/7P in 7GP, and the Sabres have gone 4-3 in that stretch.
C Doug Gilmour, the Sabres’ other Trade Day acquisition, has done his part as well, posting 2G/7A/9P in 6GP.
After a home-and-home with Carolina, the Sabres finish the season against Toronto, Alexander Mogilny and the New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh,and Washington.
Bad Peter, er, Scott!
74GP, 39W, 30L, 5OTL, 88P
The establishment hockey press has nodded approvingly of the league’s handling of the stick-attack on Panther’s tough guy Peter Worrell.
Note the difference in the language used to describe two similar events:
When Boston Bruins goon Marty McSorley fed his stick to Vancouver Canuck goon Donald Brashear, the Fourth Estate fought with one another to howl the loudest about McSorley’s vicious slash to Brashear’s head. McSorley got a 23-game suspension.
But when New Jersey D Scott Neidermeyer tried to split open Worrell’s head with a two-hander across the top, the company scribes pooh-poohed it as a “strike to the helmet.” After all, the conventional wisdom goes, Neidermeyer is a nice guy, Worrell had it coming, and a 10-game suspension is just punishment.
Sort of reminds you of the Jack Nicholson speech at the climax of “The Witches of Eastwick”: “When we make a mistake, it’s called evil. But when God makes a mistake, it’s Nature.”
You play for the crest on the front . . .
31W, 34L, 3OTL, 9T, 74P
If you want to see what courage can do for a hockey team, look to the Canadiens.
Despite being crippled by injury to key players, the Habs have refused to quit. Since March 1, they went 6-4-2 and refused to roll over in the race for the eighth play-off spot in the East.
It’s not going to get any easier for them. Add D Eric Weinrich (broken foot) to an injured list that includes enough quality players to start an expansion franchise. Weinrich joins C Saku Koivu and C Trevor Linden on the finished-for-the-season list.
32W, 34L, 6OTL, 8T, 78P
While their captain, Jaromir Jagr, was out with thigh and hamstring woes for 12 games, the Pens went 3-7-2 and were shut out twice.
Jagr returned last week, and the Pens put together a three-game winning streak, whipping up on bottom-feeders.
Jagr left in the first period of Sunday’s game with a bruised back after Flyers D Dan McGillis ran him from behind and did not return.
The Pens lost, 3-1.