|AP Photo TPA110, TPA108|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 24 November 2007 01:00|
The Tampa Bay Lightning captain lifted his club out of an offensive slump almost single-handedly when he posted multiple points in eight consecutive games. The amazing run earned him NHL top star honors in consecutive weeks.
Starting with a three-assist performance in a 6-4 loss to Atlanta on Nov. 3, Lecavalier went on a tear during which he scored seven goals and helped set up 14 others. Tampa Bay dropped the first two games of his streak, stretching the Lightning's skid to five straight losses, but then went 5-0-1 in the remaining games.
During Tampa Bay's fruitless three-game road trip against the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils earlier this month, the Lightning were winless and scored only twice - a pair of goals by Lecavalier.
The streak started as soon as the Lightning returned home and didn't stop until Tampa Bay's 2-1 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday night.
``Once you start scoring, it seems like you can really see the net,'' said Lecavalier, who entered the weekend with an NHL-best 34 points. ``But, you know, if you go three, four, five games, you get to squeezing your stick a little bit. You see the goalie a lot bigger. It kind of goes both ways.
``Right now, my confidence and our confidence is pretty good. When I get in front of a goalie, it's all about confidence, I think. If you're calm and you don't squeeze your stick, good things will happen.''
And it is happening for the No. 1 pick of the 1998 NHL draft. In his streak alone, Lecavalier put up more points than five-time scoring champion Jaromir Jagr has all season.
Lecavalier tied a career high with five points (3 goals, 2 assists) in the Lightning's 6-1 win over Carolina last week. He was tied for fifth in the league with 14 goals one season after taking the Rocket Richard Trophy with an NHL-best 52.
Things are going so well for Lecavalier that the well-publicized clashes with coach John Tortorella are also a thing of the distant past. During the Lightning's struggles, some buzz abounded that Tortorella's job could be in danger.
``It's been like that since my first year. Every time we have a bad stretch or something, that's just how it is,'' Lecavalier said. ``The relationship has been going very well. I don't even think we should talk about it anymore. I think we're way past that. We've had our differences in the past, but now it's a totally different story.''
NO. 19 FOREVER: No. 19 has been off the market for quite some time in Montreal, now it officially belongs to Larry Robinson forever.
Robinson forged a Hall of Fame career during 17 seasons on the Canadiens blue line, winning six Stanley Cup titles while anchoring Montreal's defense. No one wore No. 19 after he left for Los Angeles in 1989, but the Canadiens didn't officially retire the sweater until this week.
He never doubted that the team would finally give him this honor bestowed upon only 12 others.
``There was a lot of controversy leading up to this day and I'm sure the Canadiens had their reasons for doing what they did,'' Robinson said. ``The number hasn't been worn since I left the team in 1989. Either they forgot it in the closet and didn't realize it wasn't being used or they were planning this day anyway. I just tried not to think about it.''
Robinson got a call from the Canadiens about a decade ago when Jassen Cullimore joined the Canadiens and requested No. 19. The always classy Robinson told the team he had no ownership over 19, and that he was OK with the idea of someone else wearing it.
Someone thought better of it after that conversation, and Cullimore wore 21 and then 35 instead.
Fifteen years after Robinson said goodbye to his playing career, the Canadiens raised his number to the rafters of the Bell Centre - an arena in which Robinson never played.
``This certainly is a great honor, more so maybe than the Hall of Fame,'' said Robinson, now an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils. ``This is something that my family and friends can enjoy with me more maybe than anything else. This is going to be there forever.''
Robinson put up 208 goals and 958 points during 20 NHL seasons, and added another 144 points in 227 postseason contests. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995, the first year he was eligible.
He was part of Montreal's ``Big Three'' on defense along with Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe, and was a member of the Canadiens' four straight Stanley Cup wins from 1976-79.
Robinson won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1977 after recording a plus-120 during the 1976-77 season, the second-best mark in league history.
He shed some tears during Monday's ceremony, surely thinking about the great moments he spent in the famed Montreal Forum.
``You look at the number of players that have played for this organization and are now in the Hall of Fame, it's incredible,'' he said. ``But when you look up in the rafters, not everybody who is in the Hall of Fame has their number up there.
``I'm sorry to say, but I still don't get the same feeling that I did when I used to go into the Forum and look around. I played all of my career at the Forum, now all of a sudden it's a little bit different, as in all these new buildings. They are absolutely gorgeous buildings, but the same aura of walking into the Forum, it's just a little bit different.''
HITCHED ON: Pascal Leclaire's spot among the top NHL goalies is a testament to his fine play and the defensive system Ken Hitchcock put in place one year after taking over as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Leclaire, in just his second full NHL season, put up a 2.00 goals-against average in his first 15 games this season - the second-lowest mark in the league for goalies who have played that many games.
He earned his club-record and NHL-leading sixth shutout of the season Friday.
Hitchcock took over the Blue Jackets last Nov. 22 and guided them to a 28-29-5 mark. Entering this weekend, Columbus sat in next-to-last place in the very competitive Central Division, but with a respectable record of 10-8-4.
The Blue Jackets ranked fourth in goals-against average per game at 2.32, largely because of Hitchcock's defense-first philosophy.
``Big time,'' said Leclaire, the NHL's second star in October. ``I think that's our main concern in Columbus. You want us to push really hard to focus on defense play first. If you play well defensively you'll have chances on turnovers and stuff like that. So guys have really bought into it.
``We've seemed to find a way to win by doing this. And we trust the system a lot. And when we do what he tells us to do, we're usually in pretty good shape.''
Hitchcock wore out his welcome in Philadelphia a year ago, and his blustery nature seemed to lose steam when the Flyers started dreadfully slow last season. He was fired on Oct. 22 after a 1-6-1 start, but landed behind the Blue Jackets bench one month later.
``The media built him as a big guy who yells at everybody,'' the 25-year-old Leclaire said. ``Since Day One that he got there, he was an honest guy. He knew what he was expecting from us and he told us it wasn't going to happen overnight. Everybody really appreciates him around here.
``Guys believe in him. He brought something, something that was missing, more structured play, especially the defensive game that's so important now. Guys really bought into it. And by winning and doing that, that's how you build your confidence.''
TUNING IN: The NHL hasn't been on ESPN since before the NHL lockout, but that doesn't mean the network has been forgotten by commissioner Gary Bettman.
``I talk to them all the time,'' Bettman said while attending a Blues game in St. Louis.
Now in the third season of its national cable contract with Versus, formerly the Outdoor Life Network, the NHL is committed to making it work on the much lesser-known channel.
Complaints and criticism of the relocation to Versus haven't shaken the league, at least publicly.
``Versus has an option for next year and I anticipate they'll exercise it,'' Bettman said. ``They have a long-term relationship with us. I think it's their option, but nobody's focused on it.
``We've always viewed this as a long-term relationship and we anticipate that's what it will be. I think they're doing a very good job. Their coverage from Day One has continued to improve, as has distribution.''
AP Sports Writer R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis contributed to this report