Some feel shortchanged by 1st quarter

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The season is a quarter old, and it's time to revisit some highlights and lowlights.

* The Florida Panthers, not good enough to make the NHL playoffs in either of their first two seasons of existence, have the second most points in the NHL (35) with a 17-6-1 record.

* The Pittsburgh Penguins' Mario Lemieux, returning to action for the first time since the 1993-94 playoffs, is atop the leader board with 22 goals, 30 assists for 52 points.

* A tremendous Lemieux rookie season, in which Boston Bruins goalie Blaine Lacher went 19-11-2 with a 2.41 goals-against average, earned the 25-year-old the distinction of being the Bruins' No. 1 goalie coming into the season. Tuesday, Lacher was assigned to the Bruins' AHL team in Providence for a two-week conditioning assignment, after going 2-5-2 with a 3.93.

If Lacher is looking for someone to commiserate with, he can call San Jose Sharks goalie Arturs Irbe, the former all-star who is 1-7-4 with a 4.84.

* Retired Montreal star Mario Tremblay stepped into the Canadiens' head coaching job when the team was reeling under an 0-5 start. Tremblay's enthusiasm immediately spurred a six-game winning streak. The Canadiens are 12-5-1 under Tremblay.

* The Calgary Flames, with star Theoren Fleury, were thought to be one of the best teams in the West when the season started. But so far, though Fleury is fifth in the league in shots, with 99 in 23 games, the mighty mite has just six goals and the Flames have just four wins.

* Add to the list of disappointing starts that of the Vancouver Canucks and the St. Louis Blues. Vancouver was dealt a blow by the loss of Pavel Bure for the season, but the Canucks, who need binoculars to see the playoff picture at this point, weren't doing that well with him. As for St. Louis, the highly paid Blues and their highly paid coach/general manager Mike Keenan have given their fans a headache with their rantings and sub-.500 performance.

* To end on a high note, how about those Winnipeg Jets? At 12-10-2, and with second-year goalie Nikolai Khabibulin making like Hercules (11-5-0, 3.01 and a .915 save percentage going into last night), the Jets are showing staying power.

Teemu Selanne, so great his rookie season when producing 132 points, is on a similar pace with 13 goals and 20 assists, and is well supported by Igor Korolev (12 goals, 17 assists) and Keith Tkachuk (12 goals, 15 assists) on offense, and Teppo Numminen, Dave Manson and rookie Deron Quint on defense. All this from a team that knows it won't be playing in Winnipeg next year.

Holding the line

Over the first quarter of the season, officials are following NHL orders to call obstruction penalties. There has been a 34 percent increase in the number of restraining penalties from the same period last season.

The count is 2,039 minor penalties for restraining infractions, compared to 1,355 during a similar span last season. That breaks down to an average of 7.1 restraining fouls per game, compared to 4.7 in 1994-95. Stick-related infractions are down 23 percent, and fighting majors have dropped 12 percent from last season.

Just wondering. . . .

With Boston Bruins center Adam Oates coming back from an Oct. 28 knee injury, will left wing Kevin Stevens again be the dominating power forward he used to be? Without a setup man, Stevens has one goal in his last seven games -- just six all together.

* How does the name The Phoenix Jets grab you? Will Winnipeg really wind up in Phoenix? The Jets' fate could be known as early as the NHL Board of Governors meeting Dec. 14 in Florida. That's the deadline Jets co-owners Richard Burke and Steven Gluckstern, who bought the team for $65 million, were given for finding a playing site for next season.

* Anyone still remember Al Iafrate, the big defenseman the Washington Capitals traded to the Boston Bruins for Joe Juneau? Iafrate hasn't played since the 1994 playoffs because of knee injuries. Will he ever be back? Boston coach Steve Kasper says he isn't allowing himself to be optimistic. But both Kasper and Iafrate's agent, Rick Curran, say Iafrate is "improving" and "getting stronger."

* How will the Dallas Stars react to a week of idleness? Dallas, 8-7-5, was on a three-game winning streak when the schedule placed them in cold storage until tomorrow.

"It'll be a revealing time," Dallas center Dave Gagner said. "I think through our minds we're wondering what's going to happen."

Saturday, the Stars will begin a six-games-in-10-nights cross country tour that Dallas Morning News writer Frank Luksa says will take them through four time zones "and three countries: Canada, United States and Texas."

NHL by the numbers

* The Detroit Red Wings lead the NHL in average attendance with 19,827 fans for nine home dates this season. The Ottawa Senators are last in the league with 9,221. The Washington Capitals have averaged 13,667 for 12 home dates.

* With center Eric Lindros in the lineup this season, the Philadelphia Flyers are 12-2-3; without him they are 2-4-1. It is not an early-season phenomenon. Over Lindros' four-year Flyers career the team is 96-71-22 with him and 17-27-7 without him.

* After the first quarter of the season, NHL goal scoring is up by a half-goal a game from last season. The goals-per-game average after 287 games is 6.3, up from 5.8 during the first quarter of the 1994-95 season. That's 1,817 goals to 1,688.

* The NHL is on a pace to challenge the record for most 100-point scorers in a season. No fewer than 25 players had 25 points or more at the quarter mark, as compared to 14 after the first quarter last year. The record for most 100-point scorers in a season is 21, set in 1992-93.

* Detroit goalie Chris Osgood, who had a 118-minute shutout streak broken this week, leads the league in shutouts with three in 14 games. Pittsburgh's Ken Wregget, New Jersey's Martin Brodeur and Buffalo's Dominik Hasek each have two.

* The Los Angeles Kings power play has scored once in its past 22 tries.

* Nineteen players scored 12 goals or more in the first quarter, compared to 12 players in that span last season. Montreal's Brian Savage (17 goals), Winnipeg's Igor Korolev (12) and Tampa Bay's Alexander Selivanov (12) have already surpassed their single-season highs.

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