Heart of Islanders lineup gravitates toward center

November 24, 1990|By Newsday

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The New York Islanders' lineup is decidedly tilted, without leaning to the left or right. It could not stand up to the laws of physics, because it is strongest at the center and notably out of balance.

Even more of their scoring potential is packed into the spot between left and right wings now that new center Ray Ferraro is third on the depth chart behind Pat LaFontaine and Brent Sutter. The middle ground has become a crowded spot on a team that still has plenty of bare offensive spots.

As a result of the trade that brought Ferraro from the Hartford Whalers, Greg Parks was sent to the minors Tuesday, along with Tom Fitzgerald, who has just about given up hope of playing center, his natural position.

Perhaps most significantly affected by the deal, however, is Hubie McDonough, now a fourth-string center, who knows what sort of impact a trade can have.

"Maybe they didn't think I could handle the third-line position," said the feisty center, whose arrival from the Kings last November immediately helped turn around the Islanders' season.

In the first game after that deal, the Islanders began a remarkable 23-6-3 run that featured McDonough's persistent penalty killing, enthusiastic checking and above all penchant for timely goals. Fans at Nassau Coliseum chanted his name and praised his plus-14 rating, which was best on the team.

McDonough still is a crowd favorite, but the first quarter of this season has had little other resemblance to last year. Ferraro's arrival has heightened the challenge and the resolve of a player who has only six points and a minus-10 rating entering Thursday night's home game against the Jets.

"It's been a lousy first 20 games for me," McDonough said. "I started slowly; I was out of shape because I missed some of training camp (with a knee injury). Then the games came and I struggled. All of a sudden, I was in the minus department.

"When (Ferraro) came in and started playing center, I said this probably could cut down on my ice time. But I started on the fourth line last year. I'm just going to have to work through my own bad play. If our line can get some of those timely goals, I'm sure we'll get ice time."

His spirits have been lifted lately by perhaps his two strongest games in Vancouver and Edmonton last weekend and by a holiday visit from his New Hampshire-based family. And while there is a possibility that the center-rich team still might have another trade in line, he is not letting himself worry about it.

"You hear talk like that, but they didn't make any big trades in the off-season, and they just made this one," the 27-year-old said. "I don't know how quick they are to make deals.

"Maybe I can get those first 22 games out of the way like I did FTC last year," he said, referring to his pre-Islanders phase. "That's when things turned around. Maybe it can continue like that."

A replay of the past, on the other hand, is what made Fitzgerald visibly sullen when he left Tuesday. He realizes he now is a full-time right wing, which would not seem so bad if he could do it in the NHL.

"It's my second full year of being on pins and needles every day. You don't know where you're going to be," he said. "It stinks. I've never had a place to live here. I'd like to say I've had a home, but the Marriott is my home."

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