He made an immediate impact early in his NHL career then fell off
the radar screen because of a bitter, seemingly irreconcilable
contract dispute. Now he holds the key to the Senators'
short-term success. No, we're not talking about disgruntled
center Alexei Yashin (who sat out last year in a pecuniary pout),
but goaltender Patrick Lalime. For an Ottawa team that boasts
spectacular depth at forward and defense, the season will hinge
on how well Lalime adjusts to being a No. 1 netminder.
Now 26, Lalime burst onto the scene with the Penguins in 1996-97
and holds the record for longest undefeated streak by a
goaltender from the start of his NHL career (16 games). Unable to
come to terms on a new contract with Pittsburgh in '97-98, Lalime
spent two seasons in the minors before resurfacing as Ottawa's
backup goalie last year. When the Senators declined to offer
starter Tom Barrasso a new contract, the top job fell to Lalime.
"This is something I've been looking forward to, the chance to be
Number 1," says Lalime, who was 19-14-3 with a 2.33 goals-against
average last season.
Lalime may never be a Vezina Trophy candidate, but in Ottawa he
may not need to be. Since coach Jacques Martin places such a
heavy emphasis on team defense, merely good goaltending may be
enough. Wade Redden is an emerging star on the blue line, but the
strength of the team is its lightning-quick forwards. The
Senators actually scored more goals last season without Yashin in
the lineup than they did in '98-99 with him, thanks to breakout
years by Radek Bonk (60 points) and Marian Hossa (56). If Yashin,
who decided to fulfill the final season of his five-year
contract, can play anywhere near the level he did two years ago,
this offense will be fine.
Yashin knows that his tattered reputation needs repair. The
surest way to get out of Ottawa, as he still wishes, is to
reestablish his credentials as a top player and get other teams
interested in trading for him. To do that, Yashin needs to prove
that he can be a team player. "To have a good roster is not
always 100 percent of success," he says. "If you work hard, you
October 15, 2000
If Yashin follows his own advice, Ottawa will be a playoff
contender. To get to the next level, however, the Senators will
need their other comeback kid, Lalime, to be their saving
Last season 14 Senators scored a total of 24 unassisted goals,
both league-leading figures.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
FORWARDS 5 Yashin's return is big; unit's speed
DEFENSE 4 Deep and skilled, led by Redden
GOALTENDING 24 Need upgrade here; no proven No. 1
SPECIAL TEAMS 4 PP should be more reliable with Salo
MANAGEMENT 4 G.M. Johnston and Martin are