Kings not playing like last season

ON THE NHL

March 08, 1994|By SANDRA McKEE

After an amazing four months of inspiring hockey, the expansion Florida Panthers are playing like, well, like the Los Angeles Kings. Which would be a good thing if this were last year. Last season, the Kings were runners-up to the Montreal Canadiens for the Stanley Cup.

This season, the Kings are 10th in the Western Conference, two spots and six points out of the playoffs. The Panthers, once in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, have sliped to 10th, one point behind the Philadelphia Flyers.

They had lost five straight and eight of nine before beating Vancouver last night, 2-1.

"This is not a good time to have this happen," said goalie John Vanbiesbrouck, who looked to have a pretty good shot at league MVP. "But we believe in each other. It's just a matter of getting through this thing."

This thing, if any one is wondering, has a lot to do with special teams and a rookie center named Jesse Belanger. When Belanger, who has eight power-play goals and nine power-play assists, went out with a broken left hand Feb. 17, the Panthers' special teams went into a funk and stayed there.

Florida, which had veteran clubs back on their heels, is still outscoring opponents at equal strength, but the power-play drought is a problem. Without Belanger, the Panthers are 2-for-42 with the extra man.

The good news: Belanger is to be back in the lineup by Monday.

Playoff start, finish set

While the NHL's 26 teams battle for 16 playoff spots, the league has set postseason playoff dates. Eastern Conference play begins April 17. The Western Conference is to face off April 18, but that date could be moved up to April 17 to accommodate ABC television coverage.

The Stanley Cup finals, tentatively scheduled to begin May 31, will be wrapped up by June 14.

Portland update

The Portland Pirates (formerly the Baltimore Skipjacks) are getting some terrific play from their special teams. Sunday, the Pirates benefited from two power-play goals and one short-handed goal in their 3-1 victory over Springfield.

Portland is making 21.2 percent of its power plays and has five extra-man goals in its past three games. It has gone three games without giving up a power play, for an 80.4 percent success rate. The Pirates lead the league in fewest short-handed goals allowed, five in 65 games.

Galley insult stings

After the Philadelphia Flyers rallied to tie the Washington Capitals, 3-3, Friday, Garry Galley, a former Capital who scored two of the Flyers' three goals, was asked if he feared the Flyers were out of it when they were down by two.

"Hey, I used to play for that team," Galley said. "I wasn't worried. I know they always score in bunches and then go into a lull that lets the other team back in."

The Calgary Flames, who rallied from a 3-0 deficit for a 4-4 tie Sunday, might back up Galley. But the Caps aren't buying it.

Center Mike Ridley, one of the few Capitals players who remembers when Galley played for the Caps in 1986 and 1987, didn't think much of the remark.

"Gary's a good friend of mine," said Ridley, who joined the Caps in 1986. "But I think Gary might have forgotten the four previous games when we beat the Flyers. We were up in every one of those games and we must not have had too big a 'lull' because we were also up at the end."

Say what?

Capitals defenseman John Slaney is a Newfoundland native, and he'll make a guest appearance on the CBC comedy show "This Hour has 22 Minutes" tomorrow. Slaney appears in a segment called "Hockey Notebook."

He has two lines: "Thanks, Coach." And, then, when asked what went through his mind when he scored his first NHL goal, he is to say: "That I owed it all to you." Slaney describes the show as "a Newfoundland soap opera." As to attributing his success to the show's "coach," he laughs, "I never saw the guy before."

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