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Crosby's stellar play impresses Wild's Lemaire

by Phil Coffey

Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire was quite impressed with the play of Sidney Crosby when the Penguins traveled to
Minnesota, and left with a 4-2 victory.

Jacques Lemaire knows greatness. The owner of 11 Stanley Cup rings has seen more than his share of great players through the years, especially in Montreal, where he joined a veritable wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Lemaire also isn’t prone to handing out praise just because he is asked a question. So, Sidney Crosby should feel pretty darn good about himself after Lemaire was effusive in his praise of the Pittsburgh Penguins captain after he scored a goal and assisted on three others in a road win against the Wild on Tuesday.

“He’s among the top players, there’s no doubt,” Lemaire told Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “And he will be the top player. I think he is right now, in the National Hockey League. It’s hard to compare, because you look at his size, there were players of his size (in the past). But work like he works, they will not.”

Does he remind you of any contemporaries, Jacques?

“Probably, they have the same talent, but they were different,” Lemaire said. “He’s the perfect kid you want on your team. He’s an example. He’s young and he’s got, it seems, the experience to be a leader on his team because of his work ethic. I can’t compare him to any of the players I’ve seen in the past.”

Judging from Lemaire’s past, that is high praise indeed.

Hall of Fame week -- The 2007 Hockey Hall of Fame inductions will be held Nov. 12, with perhaps the greatest incoming class ever on the podium. Let’s list them alphabetically since it is so hard to distinguish among them – Ron Francis, Al MacInnis, Mark Messier and Scott Stevens. Add in longtime NHL executive Jim Gregory and this is one for the ages. is going to kick off Hall of Fame week in a big way starting Monday. Each day during the week we will provide in-depth looks at the inductees from a crack staff of writers and there will be video retrospective and photo galleries galore. Both John McGourty and Dan Rosen will be in Toronto for the festivities next weekend and will be covering the inductions.

We will also be on hand Wednesday, when the Lester Patrick Award is presented to Brian Leetch, Cammy Granato, John Halligan and Stan Fischler, so stick around this week for some great hockey stories.

Good news on Havlat -- The word is “progress” concerning the injured right shoulder of Chicago Blackhawks forward Martin Havlat.

“I’m working on it every day, just trying to get better,” Havlat said of the injury he suffered on the opening night of the season. “It’s better than it was two weeks ago and three weeks ago that’s for sure. I’m stronger than I was last week and I’m using bigger weights. The range of motion is basically fine. There are still a few movements where I’m feeling discomfort.”

Injuries have been a scourge to Havlat in his career. He never has played a full season and was limited to 56 games last season and just 18 games in 2005-06. You might think Havlat would have gotten used to watching games, by now, but it grates on his nerves.

”I hate watching my team play -- it’s not fun,” Havlat said. “It has been tough, but I’m trying to get focused and do whatever I have to do to get back as soon as possible.”

The Weight of the world -- Here’s a game of word association.

Doug Weight ... Good guy

So it is hardly surprising that you won’t hear a discouraging word part his lips this season despite his personal struggles. So far this season, the Blues have been winning and doing all the things coach Andy Murray wants. As a result, you will only hear about Paul Kariya’s success and Brad Boyes’ fine start from Weight, not about his disappointment to have just two assists in the season’s first 10 games.

“We’re three games above .500,” Weight told Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch prior to a 2-1 loss to the Coyotes on Tuesday night. “If I didn’t produce much in the first nine games, which is my job, then I’ve got to do something about it. But I’m going to try to be upbeat. All you can do is work as hard as you can and get the coach to get you back out there.”

Complicating matters for Weight is Murray is going with the hot hand. As a result, Weight’s minutes are down, as his time on the power play.

Blues' center Doug Weight (right, with David Backes) says he is not discouraged by the
lack of ice time he is getting in St. Louis.

“That’s fine ... I’m great with challenges,” Weight said. “I look forward to them and I’ve answered them my whole career. Are you ever going to understand everything going on? No. I felt like last year, I played really well the last half and produced a lot for Andy. I came into camp in great shape and for whatever reason ...

“But you’ve got to make sure you realize this is a team sport and we have a deep team,” he continued. “The red line (Paul Kariya, Keith Tkachuk and Brad Boyes) ... they’ve played well. They’ve contributed and really won us some games. But I for sure believe I’m going to be a big part of this team and have to be a big part of this team for us to be successful. No one-line team is winning anything in this League.”

Like Weight, frequent linemate Martin Rucinsky also has struggled thus far and was a healthy scratch for the game against Phoenix.

“We had three or four games in a row where we (had) five or six chances each and came out with goose eggs ... and that stinks,” Weight said. “We need Marty and myself going, and right now it’s not working. But Marty is not hurting me at all. No one else is hurting my production, that’s for sure.”

Road a horror show for Bolts -- Headed into play Thursday night against the Islanders, the Tampa Bay Lightning have hated life away from home, posting an 0-5-0 mark as they went into Nassau Coliseum.

Bad starts have contributed to the road woes. In all five losses, the Lightning has allowed the game’s first goal within the opening eight minutes of the game. Against the Devils, it was two goals in the first 6:20. Against Florida, the first goal against came at 2:33. Against the Bruins, 3:48, the Caps, 6:33 and the Rangers, 7:40.

Tough to win without the lead, especially on the road.

”I am totally in a funk in why we have such a drop-off in that one area of playing the right way, and it’s not just the effort, it’s the discipline,” coach John Tortorella said after the loss to the Rangers. ‘We have defined how we have to play and what our team identity is, and I don’t have an answer for that. I’m totally frustrated and furious on how big the drop-off was.”

It’s been grand, but … Atlanta Thrashers defenseman was appreciative of seeing Montreal’s Alexei Kovalev and Bryan Smolinski appear in their 1,000th career games. It’s a mark the veteran can’t imagine reaching himself.

“It’s so much. You need to be lucky, you need to be healthy, you have to play well, you have to be mentally strong,” Klee told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “It’s a lot of hockey.”

Klee recently topped 800 games for his career, so he isn’t that far off, but he’s not optimistic.

“I don’t think I’m going to make it; that’s too much,” he said. “I don’t know if my wife could take it. I don’t know if I could take it.”

Old friends -– Last Jacques Lemaire note of the week, promise. But did you know Lemaire and Penguins coach Michel Therrien are close friends? Did you know the friendship developed when Lemaire coached Therrien in 1982-83 when Therrien was a 19-year-old defenseman for Longueuil of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Didn’t think so.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for him,” Therrien said. “I told him he’s getting older when your player ends up coaching against you. I know how he thinks about the game. We talk a lot about games. It’s fun to coach against your old coach.”

Material from personal interviews, wire services, newspaper, and league and team sources was used in this report.



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