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Central: Trimmer Legace cutting down on Blues' goals against

by Larry Wigge

After season-ending surgery on his knee, Legace wound up rehabbing his body while working on his fitness with strength and conditioning coach Nelson Ayotte.
Manny Legace had an excruciatingly long time to think about this season after he injured his right knee Feb. 28 and shortly thereafter had to end his 2006-07 season far too early to the little goaltender's liking.

Legace was on a roll, posting an 18-6-4 record with a 2.10 goals-against average and five shutouts after the hiring of Andy Murray as coach of the Blues. The 34-year-old Toronto native was more than excited about St. Louis and his future there, so much so that he didn't balk when Blues' management asked him to spend the summer in town working on his fitness.

"The Blues made a commitment to me when they gave me a new two-year contract, I had no problem with making a commitment to them for the summer," Legace admitted.

It was time well spent. Legace started this season with six wins in his first 10 starts, giving up two goals or fewer seven times -- and that included one three-game stretch in which he did not allow more than one goal.

After season-ending surgery on his knee, Legace wound up rehabbing his body -- losing 15 pounds and reducing his body fat by three percent -- while working on his fitness with strength and conditioning coach Nelson Ayotte. He also worked on his technique, especially his footwork, with goaltending coach Rick Wamsley.

"We really felt if he played lighter that he was going to feel better and move better," Wamsley said. "To me, Manny has always been a great first-save goalie. Now, he's also a second-save goaltender, after improving his leg strength and becoming more efficient with his movements in goaltender-specific workouts we threw at him."

Wamsley said Legace had a habit of drifting a little after making the first save. Now, because of his fitness and leg strength, Legace is in position for that second shot more often. You can see how many saves he's making with his newfound leg quickness.

"This isn't an old-dog-learning-new-tricks story," Wamsley added. "Manny's record has been great. But, no matter how good you are at one thing, you can always improve on something else. One thing that struck me was, he was often too overaggressive and would drift away from the net. So, we did a lot of work on different ways to get from A to B ... what route to take when the puck changes sides.

"Let's face it, Manny's head has always made him a smart goalie. Now, his body has been trained to be just as smart."

Legace is definitely leaner. He looks quicker in goal and he's making more saves with his legs, which puts him position to react quicker and more decisively on rebounds.

"My stamina is better," Legace admitted. "I don't feel gassed at times in the game when a lot of shots are coming my way, especially when I have to go up and down in the butterfly.

"It may sound funny, but my skating has never been better. I'm getting where I need to be smoother and setting up faster, instead of getting there while the puck is getting there. I'm not going head-first at pucks. I'm getting my feet and my body there first, and it's allowing me to recover quicker."

Legace's summer was not just spent rehabbing his body, but also rehabbing a house that the Legaces fell in love with in the Central West End part of St. Louis that was built in 1908.

"I'm pretty good at tearing things down," Legace laughed. "Seriously, my wife and I fell in love with that part of St. Louis last summer after we signed to play with the Blues. The house we started working on this summer was built shortly after the 1904 World's Fair. Think about that. Think about the long and storied past."

While Legace does not read Home and Gardens, he is pretty handy around the house -- after being told by Giana exactly how she wants the tile put down or the bathroom fixtures hung, etc., etc., etc.

Manny Legace Sr. is a retired mechanic who worked in construction for a few years. He came down to St. Louis to lend a hand as well.

"I learned a little about using a hammer when I was growing up," Legace joked. "Hey, my dad built the house I grew up in in Toronto, so I respect his opinion on a lot of construction things. It was hard work. But it was also a treat to be working side-by-side with my dad on our house."

The Blues like to talk about their rehab as being brick-by-brick rebuilding -- and Legace is definitely expected to be the difference maker in whether the team will return to the playoffs after missing the last two seasons.

"Manny played really well for us last year," Blues center Doug Weight said. "He knows we need huge things from him. Forget the pressure. Manny's up to it. He's been our best player so far this season."

Murray believes Legace is still driven by the way he left Detroit after losing in the first round of the playoffs in 2006, after posting a 37-8-0 record with a 2.19 GAA and seven shutouts.

"He's a proud man," Murray said. "You can see how driven he is to prove to everyone just what a good No. 1 goalie he is."

One problem. Manny can't use is the old standby chubby-little-goalie line when referring to himself.

"I've actually got one ab now," Legace laughed.

That's just five short of a six-pack, Manny. But the ab-solute in this case is that Manny Legace is ready to pitch in and help the Blues build a winner brick by brick.

Around the Central Division -- Henrik Zetterberg for MVP? He's making a case for himself. The marvelous Detroit center continues to lead the NHL in scoring with 24 points and goal-scoring, netting his 11th and 12th goals in the Red Wings' 4-1 victory in Calgary on Nov. 1. The two goals gave him points in his first 14 games and equaled Norm Ullman's record for consecutive games with points at the start of a season set in 1960. To take it a step and a half further, the fast start gave Zetterberg 29 goals and 37 assists in his last 54 games. Those are MVP numbers. ... Victories in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary gave Detroit its first sweep in Western Canada in the Wings' last 21 visits and ran their record against the Northwest Division this season to 7-0-0. ... One of the other stars on that trip was Valtteri Filppula, second-year, second-line center, who oddly had no points in his first 10 games and had a lot of Detroiters wondering about him. No, nothing was lost in the translation from English to Finnish as Filppula quickly proved by getting points in his next three games, including the game-winning goal with 24.4 seconds left in the Red Wings' 2-1 victory at Edmonton Oct. 30. ... Chris Osgood ran his record to 7-0-0 -- as the team's backup to injured Dominik Hasek -- with the three Western wins. In fact, "Ossie" has gotten the Wings at least a point in every start since Jan. 6, going 14-0-5 in that stretch. I wonder how many other GMs know that this is the final year of Osgood's contract with the Wings? ... I can still remember Ken Hitchcock pumping up the leadership in the Columbus locker room, with Stanley Cup champions like Sergei Fedorov, Adam Foote and Fredrik Modin, last season after he became coach of the Blue Jackets. The results were in baby steps. But look at them now -- and Foote and Fedorov, with veteran newcomer Michael Peca and young vets like Rick Nash and Jason Chimera also leading the way. It may not be seen on the stat sheet every game, but you can see the difference with Foote staying healthy and playing a ton of tough minutes each game, Fedorov playing for a new contract and pride after having great talks with GM Scott Howson and Hitchcock during the off season.

Blue Jackets goaltender Pascal Leclaire has returned with a vengeance. Six wins in October matched the six wins he had all of 2006-07
... The Blue Jackets continue to be the NHL leaders in penalty killing and they have ranked near the top in defense with Ottawa and Minnesota for most of the season. ... After losing his No. 1 job in goal to Fredrik Norrena last season, Pascal Leclaire has returned with a vengeance. Six wins in October matched the six wins he had all of 2006-07. ... The Jackets' 15 points through Nov. 1? They didn't make it to that level last season until Dec. 2. ... Doug Weight is off to slow start for the second-straight season, but Murray won't give up on a player who was plus-16 and scored 48 points in his 56 games after Murray took over for Mike Kitchen in St. Louis in December of last season. Murray's latest attempt to get Weight, who had no goals and two assists in his first nine games, was to put him with youngster David Perron, one of the Blues three first-round picks in the 2007 Entry Draft who has now made his way into the lineup. Perron's offensive skills are obvious -- and Weight seems to like the energy he brings to the lineup, having responded with his best two games of the season. ... Jay McKee. Remember him? Shot-blocker. Defensive standout. His first season after signing with the Blues as a free agent was a washout. Earlier last week, McKee recorded his first point in a St. Louis uniform and Nov. 1 he scored his first goal -- the game-winner in a 3-2 victory at Minnesota, which is ironically where two of the several injuries that have plagued him in his two seasons with the Blues happened. ... No. 1 pick Erik Johnson was expected back in the lineup this weekend in divisional games vs. Chicago at home and in Columbus on Saturday and Sunday. He hasn't played since getting the game-winning goal in the Blues' second game of the season, a 5-3 victory at Los Angeles on Oct. 6. His return will be a welcome sight for a struggling St. Louis power play. ... It's not often we get many Dimtry Kvartalnov mentions these days, but Kvartalnov's feat of getting points in his first 14 games to start his NHL career with the Boston Bruins in 1992 was in the sights of Chicago's talented rookie center Jonathan Toews after Toews scored a point in each of his first 10 games with the Blackhawks. ... Another sign of Chicago's upswing: The 16 points that Patrick Kane scored in October is the most by a rookie in the first month of the season since 1992-93, when Teemu Selanne had 20 for the Winnipeg Jets and Joe Juneau 17 for the Boston Bruins. ... It's amazing how one player can come in and once in a while have the number of a particular team that his new team may have had trouble beating. Such is the case with Jason Williams and the Chicago Blackhawks vs. the Dallas Stars. After being acquired late last season from Detroit (where the Red Wings had no problems with Dallas), Williams has already made the Hawks forget their previous woes against the Stars -- twice leading them to victories already this season with an overtime goal Oct. 13 and the winner with just 21 seconds remaining in a 5-4 triumph Oct. 31. His second game-winner against Dallas this season is part of a six-goal start in Chicago's first 12 games. ... Fifteen shots, a season-low, and the Nashville Predators were celebrating a 3-0 victory in Vancouver Nov. 1. That's the kind of upside-down season it has been for the Predators. ... Want another strange stat? Starting goaltender Chris Mason is 2-8, backup Dan Ellis is 3-0, with two shutouts -- including the one in Vancouver. ... In Nashville's first five road losses, the team had been outscored 21-3. Then, the Preds score on their only two shots in the first period against the Canucks and win, 3-0. ... For those concerned about the plight of the Predators in Nashville, local investors were given an extension to get their ducks in order by lame-duck owner Craig Leipold.


The week ahead -- Now, how about this? Seven games played by Central teams this week -- and all are divisional rivalry contests. During the last couple seasons, Detroit-Nashville has been the hottest rivalry and the first of eight meetings comes Nov. 7 at Joe Louis Arena. Pavel Datsyuk had two goals and 11 assists, including one game-winning goal and Jiri Hudler had four goals, including three game-winners, in leading the Red Wings to a 6-1-1 record last season. Dominik Hasek, who allowed just three goals in going 3-0-0 against the Preds last season, announced himself ready to go following Detroit's three-game Western Canada trip that ended Nov. 1. ... The Blackhawks and Blues play one another twice this week -- at St. Louis Nov. 3 and at Chicago Nov. 9. The Bluenote won the first meeting with the Hawks, 3-1, at Chicago Oct. 17 as Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya each tallied on the power play. ... The Blue Jackets come into the week 2-0 against the Central teams and face a schedule that has them facing division foes in each of their next eight games, including St. Louis at home Nov. 4, at Chicago Nov. 7 and at Detroit Nov. 9. Columbus beat Chicago Oct. 23, 7-4, as Rick Nash chipped in two goals and one assist to help neutralize Patrick Kane's two-goal, two-assist performance for the Blackhawks. Columbus beat the Blues, 3-0, Oct. 25 with Pascal Leclaire posting his fourth shutout of the season. .. The remaining divisional matchup is Nashville at Chicago Nov. 4. The Predators went 4-2-2 against the Hawks last season, with David Legwand leading the way for Nashville with six goals and seven assists in the eight games.


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