PHILADELPHIA -- Goalie Mike Richter took a look at some of the recent NHL All-Star Game scores (9-3, 7-6, 6-5), checked out some of the firepower on the Campbell Conference squad (Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull) and said with a shrug, "Well, at least all the goalies are in the same boat."
Maybe "all the goalies are lined up against the same wall" would have been a more apt assessment. For that is what hockey's showcase of stars, which will be staged for the 43rd time at the Spectrum today at 1 has turned into -- a shooting gallery.
"It's pretty obvious defense isn't stressed," said the New York Rangers goaltender, who has drawn quite a bit of attention the last few days since he's a Philadelphia native. "As long as you're not tested too much, if you know what I mean, it shouldn't be too bad."
Richter figures to split the goal- tending chores with Patrick Roy of the Montreal Canadiens and Don Beaupre of the Washington Capitals.
Because this trio has 55 victories in a bit more than half a season to 48 for their Campbell counterparts, the Wales Conference stars appear to have the edge. But only if someone plays a smattering of defense.
Don't count on it.
It was determined a long time ago that teams didn't want to see injuries and that fans wanted to see fancy skating, stick-handling and scoring, so the teams annually pick the most offensive-minded defensemen to help assure that the goal lights get a good workout.
But what is witnessed nightly from October to April in the NHL doesn't bare a whole lot of resemblance to what will be seen today.
The Wales, once known as the East, combines players from the Patrick and Adams divisions, tops among the scorers being the high-powered Pittsburgh line of Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Kevin Stevens plus Mark Messier of the Rangers.
The defensemen include Ray Bourque (Boston), Paul Coffey (Pittsburgh), Brian Leetch (Rangers), Kevin Hatcher (Washington), Scott Stevens (New Jersey) and Eric Desjardins (Montreal). That's as good a cast of two-way defenders as you'll find around.
Besides Hull, who has 44 goals in 45 games, and Gretzky setting up scoring chances for teammate Luc Robitaille and anyone else out on his shift, the strength of the combined forces of the Smythe and Norris Divisions (formerly the West) could come from the fact they place defensive-minded defensemen in front of goalies Ed Belfour (Chicago), Tim Cheveldae (Detroit) and Kirk McLean (Vancouver).
While the game constitutes Richter's first appearance as an All-Star, in a way it's a "first" appearance for Beaupre, too.
"It's been nearly a dozen years," reminded the Capitals goalie, "so maybe not too many people will remember"
Beaupre was a 19-year-old rookie playing for Minnesota when he was the loser in 1981. He had been an All-Star his last two years as a junior before doing it again as a rookie. "I thought it was something that was going to happen to me every year," he said.
"I don't know if anyone in this game has been through the ups and downs I have over the last several years, so I can assure you I'm probably going to appreciate this game more than anyone."
The third Capitals player on the Wales squad is winger Randy Burridge, giving Washington its largest representation since 1985 when four players were named.
NHL All-Star teams
$ WALES CONFERENCE Goaltenders
x-Patrick Roy, Montreal; Mike Richter, New York Rangers; Don Beaupre, Washington.
x-Ray Bourque, Boston; x-Paul Coffey, Pittsburgh; Brian Leetch, New York Rangers; Scott Stevens, New Jersey; Eric Desjardins, Montreal; Kevin Hatcher, Washington.
x-Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh; Joe Sakic, Quebec; John Cullen, Hartford; Mark Messier, New York Rangers.
x-Jaromir Jagr, Pittsburgh; x-Kevin Stevens, Pittsburgh; Alexander Mogilny, Buffalo; Kirk Muller, Montreal; Ray Ferraro, New York Islanders; Rod Brind'amour, Philadelphia; Owen Nolan, Quebec; Randy Burridge, Washington.
CAMPBELL CONFERENCE Goaltenders
x-Ed Belfour, Chicago; Kirk McLean, Vancouver; Tim Cheveldae, Detroit.
x-Al MacInnis, Calgary; x-Chris Chelios, Chicago; Doug Wilson, San Jose; Phil Housley, Winnipeg; Mark Tinordi, Minnesota; Dave Ellett, Toronto.
x-Wayne Gretzky, Los Angeles; Jeremy Roenick, Chicago; Steve Yzerman, Detroit; Adam Oates, St. Louis; Sergei Fedorov, Detroit.
x-Brett Hull, St. Louis; x-Luc Robitaille, Los Angeles; Theoren Fleury, Calgary; Trevor Linden, Vancouver; Gary Roberts, Calgary; Vincent Damphousse, Edmonton; Brian Bellows, Minnesota.
x -- starter.