Muscle tactics come back to hurt winless Whalers

October 14, 1992|By The Hartford Courant

NEW YORK -- The Hartford Whalers don't have the skill to compete with a talented team such as the New York Rangers.

So the Whalers tried to use muscle. It didn't work Monday night.

The Rangers scored four goals in the second period -- three on consecutive Whalers penalties -- for a 6-2 victory in their home opener before 18,200 at Madison Square Garden.

Including a brawl at the end of the second period, the teams combined for 217 penalty minutes. The Whalers had 125, a team record.

But the only record that matters for the Whalers is 0-4. It is the second-worst start in team history. They were 0-5 to begin the 1987-88 season.

"We're trying to play a physical style, a controlled style," Whalers coach Paul Holmgren said. "I'm happy the guys are sticking up for each other. That's the way I saw it.

"We have to develop something here. Until we get to where we compete in other ways, we're just going to have to stick with what we're doing."

That will suit other teams just fine. The Whalers have given opponents 30 power plays in the past three games, including 10 to the Rangers.

It was the Rangers' power play that put the Whalers away in the second period. Defenseman Brian Leetch had a goal and three assists for the Rangers, and all three assists came in the second period as the Rangers built a 5-1 lead. Tony Amonte scored two goals and Mike Gartner and Alexei Kovalev one each in the period.

Rangers goalie Mike Richter made 37 saves as the Whalers managed their highest shot total of the season. But they have yet to score more than two goals in a game; Patrick Poulin and Jim McKenzie scored Monday night. Poulin's goal at 10:42 of the first period was the first the Whalers have scored before the third period.

Whalers goalie Sean Burke made 30 saves in his third loss -- the first time he faced fewer than 40 shots in a game. But Burke was his own worst enemy in the second period.

pTC Before the fights, the Rangers broke a 1-1 tie with a goal by Gartner 1:36 into the second period.

Gartner controlled the rebound of a shot by Leetch and, with Burke down, circled in front of the net and lifted it over the goalie for a 2-1 Rangers lead.

Kovalev, playing his first NHL game, drew a penalty on Whalers defenseman Steve Konroyd at 8:33 of the second period, setting up the first of Amonte's two goals.

Messier sent a pass from the circle to Amonte at the post, where Amonte one-timed it past Burke at 9:29 for a 3-1 lead.

Moments before the goal, Burke was called for roughing Gartner in front of the Whalers' goal. That gave the Rangers a second consecutive power play.

The Whalers killed that penalty but, four seconds later, Amonte controlled a deflection of Leetch's shot from the point and put it under Burke at 11:33 for a 4-1 lead.

Burke wasn't through, though. He complained to the referee about Gartner being in front of the crease and picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, giving the Rangers another power play.

The Rangers didn't waste it. Kovalev scored off a scramble in front at 12:09 to make it 5-1.

"The [first] penalty I got there was knocking Gartner down in front of the net," said Burke. "I felt there [were] a couple times where he was standing right there in the crease. [Referee Rob Shick] is not going to call that, so you've got to do something about it.

"In the heat of the game, sometimes you've got to send a little bit of a message. Unfortunately, it came back to haunt us."

After the goals came the fights, which caused the second period to be stopped with 32 seconds to go. Burke even came out of the net to take on Leetch. The final seconds of the period were played before the start of the third.

In the third period, the Whalers were upset that Rangers forward Adam Graves took a run at Whalers center John Cullen.

"[Graves] started out on the 5-yard line and ended up on the 60," said Cullen. "I was lucky to get out of the way."

Andrew Cassels took on Graves after that. The Whalers also were angry that Rangers defenseman Jay Wells (6 foot 1, 210 pounds) tried to push around rookie Robert Petrovicky (5-11, 172).

That led to another series of fights at the end of the third period.

Shick appeared to warn both coaches about fighting. Not that it mattered. Holmgren said he didn't hear the warning and sent McKenzie on the ice for a fight with Wells.

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