Inside The NHL

January 21, 2002

Not Like Old Times
In his return to Philadelphia, an ice-cold and tentative Eric
Lindros avoided the fray

After an hour of nonstop drills during practice last Friday in
Rye, N.Y., a weary Eric Lindros walked into the Rangers' mostly
empty dressing room to find a two-man camera crew at his locker.
"Weren't you guys here yesterday?" Lindros asked with a sigh
before explaining, broken-record fashion, that his return to
Philadelphia on the next day was small potatoes. "It's going to
be great hockey," Lindros said. "There's a lot more going on
than the sideshow."

As it happened, Lindros's first game in Philadelphia since he
was traded to New York last August for three players and a draft
pick--a match marked by a pregame scuffle between the Rangers'
Matthew Barnaby and the Flyers' Donald Brashear, and punctuated
with seven fights and 106 penalty minutes--was truly
carnivalesque, more Coney Island than Broad Street. Step right
up, don't be shy, come see the Bearded Lady, the Juggling Dwarfs
and the Invisible Center!

Were it not for the raucous boos that greeted his every touch of
the puck during Philly's 4-2 victory and the signs labeling
Lindros COWARD and TRAITOR, one would have been hard-pressed to
tell that the 6'4", 236-pound center was on the ice. As he has
been during a monthlong cold spell in which he suffered a
sprained right knee and his seventh concussion, Lindros was
tentative and ineffective, getting off three harmless shots and
no hits in 21:18. (In the six games he had played since Dec. 15
Lindros had only two points and was -2.) Says Flyers winger Mark
Recchi, "Eric has to be careful. If he takes runs at players and
tries to make hits, they're going to take runs at him. If he
stays on the perimeter the way he has been, he'll stay clear of
those hits."

While it's hard to dispute that careful play will spare him a
lot of punishment, Lindros creates havoc by banging bodies. But
when he's avoiding contact, his playmaking is limited. Perhaps
the biggest casualty of his timid approach has been New York's
power play, which at week's end was 1 for its last 31 and ranked
27th in the league. In part to protect him from taking a beating
in front of the net, coach Ron Low last week moved Lindros to
the point on the first unit, leaving 5'6", 180-pound Theo Fleury
to stir things up in the crease.

It's becoming clear that as Lindros goes, so go the Rangers.
After starting the season 17-9-2-1 (Lindros had 13 goals and 17
assists during that period), New York had gone 5-10-1-2 through
Sunday and slipped from first place to third in the Atlantic
Division, six points behind Philadelphia. "We're on track
work-ethic-wise, but we just can't score," says defenseman Brian
Leetch. "Because we're not scoring, every breakdown is bigger,
every mistake is magnified."

Leetch's analysis was borne out by last Saturday's game-winner:
Flyers left wing John LeClair shoved defenseman Dave Karpa out of
position at 5:51 of the third in a 2-2 game, allowing defenseman
Kim Johnsson, one of the players Philadelphia obtained for
Lindros, to waltz in untouched and wrist his seventh goal of the
season, over goaltender Mike Richter's glove.

Lindros may be happy to have, at least temporarily, put the
Philadelphia circus behind him--"Hopefully, this is the last time
we have to meet like this," he told the 50 or so media members
who assembled for his postgame press conference--but the problems
in his and the Rangers' games have become chronic.

Forsberg's Aborted Return
No Joy in Colorado

Last week the Avalanche was set to announce the triumphant
return of star center Peter Forsberg, who hasn't played since
undergoing an emergency splenectomy during last season's
playoffs. On Jan. 9, however, Forsberg, who has spent five
months convalescing in his native Sweden, learned during a
physical that he would need season-ending surgery to repair
tendon damage in his left foot, a painful condition that he's
struggled with since last season. "We were blindsided," says
G.M. Pierre Lacroix. "Peter was skating and improving every day.
We expected him to play--we were discussing when would be the
right time for him to come back."

The loss is devastating for the defending Stanley Cup champions,
who had been playing well (14-4-5-0 over their last 23 games
through Sunday) after a miserable start. Forsberg would most
likely have centered a potent second unit, between Chris Drury
and Steve Reinprecht, giving Colorado two consistent scoring
lines and taking pressure off its No. 1 line. The top trio of
Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay had accounted for 31.9%
of the Avalanche's goals at week's end.

Lacroix, who has gained a reputation for pulling off blockbuster
deals, may need to troll for another center--the Devils' Jason
Arnott and Bobby Holik may be available--but whoever is brought
in is unlikely to match the production of Forsberg, who has
averaged 1.2 points per game over his seven-year NHL career.

"We're doing everything to improve, but nobody's trying to help
us," Lacroix says. "This team has been through adversity in the
past, and each player has to do more to pull us through. This is
a team of professionals, and I anticipate they will react that
way."

COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA Lindros's lack of aggressiveness has hurt New York, which ended the week with a six-game losing streak intact.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)