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Saturday, January 4
Devils criticized for same old trap

By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Special to

Back during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, there was plenty of grousing about the style that then-New Jersey Devils' coach Jacques Lemaire was playing. Too defensive, it was argued. Too boring, the critics said. They wound up winning the Stanley Cup that year and forward Claude Lemieux gave a tearful ode to his team, style be damned. Call us boring, call us dull, call us a trapping team, said Lemieux, but you'd better call us champions.

"It was a little dog that bit big. We're lucky we got it under control as quickly as we did."

-- Toronto trainer Brent Smith, who brought Maple Leafs' forward Mikael Renberg to the hospital in Vancouver when a serious infection, caused when Renberg aggravated a blister on his left hand while tying his skates in Edmonton. Renberg was facing possible amputation or worse if he hadn't received immediate treatment.
The number of games Washington defenseman Calle Johansson has played for the Capitals, lifting him over Kelly Miller for tops in franchise history.
Islanders' goaltender Chris Osgood was 6-1-2 in December with a 1.41 goals-against average and .946 save percentage.
Buffalo defenseman Alexei Zhitnik is still looking for his first goal of the season. He hasn't had a tally since Nov. 24, 2001.
... the Earth is off its axis: The NHL may not be the most popular pro league in the world, but it certainly is high profile enough that it was jarring to read an update on Olympic skater Kristi Yamaguchi in People Magazine, which listed her husband -- Carolina defenseman Bret Hedican -- as a "defensive guard."
Fast forward to the present day Devils. The goaltender is the same -- Martin Brodeur. The captain is the same -- Scott Stevens. Lemieux is long gone, as is much of the rest of the former personnel, including the coach -- several times, in fact. However, the griping about the club's style seems a constant.

The focal point of the finger pointing, in his view, is current bench boss Pat Burns. At suggestions that his style is partly to blame for the sagging attendance, Burns blew a gasket. Does no one remember 1994-95? As great as the Devils' season was, there were scores of tickets unsold. That's precisely why then-owner John MacMullen was planning to sell the club. When the Devils were trying to keep their minds on hockey in the spring, they'd pick up a paper and every day there'd be a new story about them moving to Nashville.

As much as they wanted to be discussing their latest playoff round victory, they'd be barraged by queries about how they felt about leaving the Garden State for points south.

Now, it's come back around. Some players have talked about the difficulty of always playing in tight games but the Devils have never been the Penguins. The new furor -- same as the old furor -- drove Burns nuts to the point where he lost patience.

"I'm sick of it," Burns told reporters. "I keep reading that we don't score goals because of my system. Do you think I tell guys not to score goals? Do you think I tell them, 'Don't score more than one goal because that's not my system?' I've never told anybody that. Ever. We want to score goals. We want to win, 6-0. Do you think people want to see Mario Lemieux score seven goals? Do you think people would leave happy and say, 'Wonderful. Mario Lemieux scored seven goals.' No. Because we wouldn't win the game. They wouldn't be happy because the Devils lost. They want to see us win. I'm sick of the criticism."

Yes, the Devils have scored just 86 goals in 36 games -- the same number of goals as Philly, but in one more game, but they entered into the weekend second in the Eastern Conference and first in the Atlantic Division. Not exactly a disaster.

Topics of discussion
There's been plenty written about the Senators' inability to meet payroll and the Sabres' ownership situation. Any more is piling it on. But wouldn't it be something if it served to spark some dialogue between the NHL Players' Association executive director Bob Goodenow and commissioner Gary Bettman with regard to the end of the collective bargaining agreement scheduled for September of next year?

The writing has been on the wall for awhile (just ask Penguins' player/owner Mario Lemieux) but why wait for the bottom to drop out before doing something about it? What you lose, you won't get back. Ever.

Fuel for Gilmour's fire

  • Rumors of Doug Gilmour's retirement have been around for ages. The Montreal forward, who turns 40 in June, woke up with back spasms and missed the club's contest against Vancouver. He could be sidelined for a little while, but he's not planning on hanging up his skates. Gilmour said when he first broke into the NHL, he used the criticism that he was too small to motivate him in his career. Assertions that he was washed up have fueled his fire the last couple of seasons.

    "About two years ago, just about everyone said I was finished and I should retire," he said. "And I've been able to use that as motivation in the same way."

    Gilmour said he never will stop playing hockey, even after his pro days are over.

    "I'm never going to quit this game ever," he said. "I just have too much fun every time I go out there to ever walk away."

    In 37 games, Gilmour is averaging 16:23 of ice time and has 23 points, 8 of them goals.

    Depth chart

  • As hot as Bruins' captain Joe Thornton had been (48 points in his first 34 games), he was cooled quite a bit as 2002 came to a close. He was held scoreless in the final three games of the calendar year for only the second time this year and not since Oct. 19-24.

  • Heading into the weekend, two players from the Northeast Division division were among the top seven in plus-minus. Bruins' left wing Mike Knuble and Ottawa's Martin Havlat were tied for fifth at plus-18. The other five best were from the West.

  • The Penguins' power play, led by Mario Lemieux, continues to stay well atop the league despite recent struggles. Heading into their game against Atlanta, the club was converting on 27.7 percent of their chances on the man advantage and had generated 49 goals in 38 games, two more tallies than in 82 games last year. And that's after going 1-for-13 in their previous two contests -- both losses. They are challenging the franchise record of 26 percent set in the 1995-96 season.

  • Tomi Kallio, who was claimed on waivers from Columbus on Wednesday, scored his first goal as a member of the Flyers, but he didn't feel as if he had anything to do with it. Jeremy Roenick backhanded the puck into the slot, and it went off Kallio's skate and past Kings' netminder Jamie Storr. But they don't ask how, they ask how many, and Kallio will take it. "It was a lucky one," said Kallio, who had two assists for Atlanta before going to the Blue Jackets and scoring one goal and two assists in 12 games there before changing addresses again. "It feels awesome. I'm more than happy with it."

  • Stop me if you've heard this before, but the Rangers continue to flounder. In their previous 12 games, heading into the weekend, they were 3-8-1-0 and had scored just 21 goals as injuries continued to plague them. Defenseman Tom Poti, remarkably and ridiculously, was their leading scorer with 30 points.

  • Goaltender Byron Dafoe is as sunny a personality as you'll meet, but he's facing some very trying times in Atlanta. Dafoe, who spent five years with the Bruins before signing with the Thrashers on Nov. 20 as an unrestricted free agent, gave up four goals on seven shots to the Senators on Thursday. It was his first game back after missing four because of a groin strain. He lasted just 12:03 before being pulled. "He was healthy," said general manager and interim coach Don Waddell. "He was one hundred percent healthy, he just obviously wasn't in game shape." Dafoe was honest to say he didn't play well. "I'm not going to make excuses," he said. "I have to stop some of those shots."

  • Heading into Friday's game against Buffalo, the Hurricanes were playing more like a squall. They had lost three straight, been shut out in two and had won just 3 of their previous 12 contests. In that span, they'd only scored 18 goals. They were a rocky 4-8-1 in December, which was tied for fifth-worst in franchise history. There was no shortage of players who were struggling to put points on the board. One of them was center Rod Brind'amour, who potted 11 goals in the first 26 games but none in his last 12.

  • The Lightning held a 17-minute player-only meeting after their dismal road loss to Calgary, 4-1, on Thursday. The club is now 1-5-2-2 away from home in their past 10. "It had nothing to do with panicking," said Brad Richards. "But if we didn't have that start [to the season], we would be in a lot of trouble. We need to stop feeling good about our start and feeling good about being a first-place team. We are one or two losses from being a fourth-place team."

    Nancy Marrapese-Burrell of the Boston Globe is a regular contributor to

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