Column: superstar for Avalanche |

Column: superstar for Avalanche

by staff

What a difference a superstar makes. To quote the great Jimmie “J.J.” Walker, Peter Forsberg has been “dy-no-mite” since returning to the Colorado Avalanche last Saturday.

Forsberg had been on the injured list all season, recovering from a shoulder seperation he suffered during last season’s Western Conference final against Dallas. As the Avs took the ice against Calgary during Thanksgiving weekend, Forsberg was said to be “more nervous than he had been in a long time.”

It didn’t show, as he scored a goal on the very first shift he took, one minute into the game. Forsberg then added another goal and three assists to finish the game with five points. Forsberg’s return was just what the Avalanche needed, as they were wallowing in a goal-scoring drought that saw them score just six goals in six games.

Against Calgary, the Avs scored seven times on their way to a 7-1 victory.

I must admit that Forsberg’s return wasn’t quite as important to the Avs as Dick Nixon was to the Republicans in 1968, but I’ll guarantee that Forsberg will be around longer than six years.

Against Vancouver, the Avalanche were able to score four times and beat former coach Marc Crawford, with Forsberg playing an important role on defense. What makes Forsberg special is not just his ability, but his knack of playing both sides of the puck. Other players around the league have said that it is nearly impossible to knock Forsberg off his feet without drawing a penalty.

The Avs played mediocre at best without Forsberg. Now it is time to see if he can validate his label as the best all-around player in the world and guide the Avalanche back to being a contender in the Western Conference.

n Speaking of mediocrity, the over-spending, underachieving New York Rangers are, quite frankly, pathetic. With the acquisitions of Theo Fleury and Valeri Kamensky, the Rangers looked poised to make a real run at the Stanley Cup. Two months into the season, Fleury has done nothing that bears any significance, and their offense has been silent.

Mike Richter has been awful in goal, giving up almost three goals a game while posting a Bill Ranford-type record of 3-10-3.

The Rangers have the third fewest points in the Eastern Conference, ahead of only the Ney York Islanders and the expansion Atlanta Thrashers. Now, to make matters worse, Brian Leetch is out with an injury and is not expected back until after the first of the year.

Head coach John Muckler and G.M. Neil Smith are said to be on the hot seat, and don’t be surprised if Muckler is gone by February.

Watch the evolution of the Rangers until the All-Star break. See if they are able to mesh, or if they have spent $100 million for nothing.

n Anyone who reads this column on a regular basis knows that I am a firm believer that goaltending wins championships. Ed Belfour and Roman Turek of the Stanley Cup champion Dallas Stars won the Jennings Trophy last season with the lowest goals-against average as a team.

Turek moved on to the St. Louis Blues and has picked up right where he left off, giving up 2.25 goals a game. Blues back-up Jamie McLennan is playing great as well giving up less than two goals per contest.

Along with the Blues, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, and Philadelphia Flyers have the four lowest GAAs in the league. To nobody’s surprise, these teams are also in first place in their respective divisions, with Detroit and St. Louis swapping positions on a continual basis.

Teams like Los Angeles and San Jose have received good goaltending, but they are relying on powerful offenses to get them through. When April rolls around, it will be interesting to see how these teams fare against the better goaltenders in the league.

The Eastern Conference has the superior goaltending, while the Western Conference has more offense. This discrepancy should provide hockey fans with some exciting action come playoff time.

n Finally, just when the Phoenix Coyotes were moving to the upper class of the Western Conference, they decided to part with goaltender Mikhail Shtalenkov.

All Shtalenkov did while in Phoenix was play for practically nothing and be named the NHL’s Player of the Month for October. Phoenix is still in first place, but watch their stock plummet as they rely on Sean Burke and Bob Essensa as their goaltenders.

I will be very surprised if Phoenix wins the Pacific Division.

Trevor Smith is the Nevada Appeal hockey columnist.