At the start of the season, the question was asked: Do veteran goalies Grant Fuhr, Patrick Roy and Ron Hextall still have it?
The answer in all three cases appears to be yes, and each is doing it his way.
In St. Louis, Fuhr has astounded everyone, except perhaps Blues coach and general manager Mike Keenan, by playing in every game and playing well: 21-20-9 record, 2.88 goals-against average, .903 save percentage.
Fuhr has gone from being considered nearly washed up, from being suspended for a week after reporting to training camp 20 pounds overweight, to being the only NHL goalie to start every game this season.
"It's been fun," said Fuhr, 33. "I've just got to try to keep it going."
Roy, 30, slipped last season and started this one 0-5. He spoke out against the Montreal Canadiens' management and was shipped to the Colorado Avalanche, where he has been close to brilliant. Roy is 10-7-1 with a 2.38 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage, which is the best among goalies who play regularly.
And in Philadelphia, Hextall (17-8-5) is carrying the lion's share of the workload for the Flyers and working on career bests in goals-against (2.30) and save percentage (.923).
At the start of the season, Hextall was considered the weak link to a Stanley Cup drive. And when Roy was on the trading block, rumors surfaced that Philadelphia was interested.
But yesterday, Hextall said he doesn't listen to rumors and doesn't worry about what people think, "as long as my teammates and my coach are happy with the way I'm playing."
He does, however, say that if anyone expected him to be a marathon man like Fuhr, he would be in trouble.
"With the injuries I've had, it wouldn't be a good idea," said Hextall, 31. "It wouldn't work for me. But it obviously works for him. Myself mentally, I'd start to wear down. But Grant is a different individual and I don't think his pre-game preparation is huge. I think that's what allows him to play as much and as well as he has. Mentally, he just kind of goes out there and plays. Me, I've got work to do on the day of the game mentally to get ready.
"But I think Grant is playing the best hockey he's played in four or five years."
And Hextall may be playing the best of his career.
He began his NHL career with the Flyers in 1986, was traded to the Quebec Nordiques for 1992-93, then to the New York Islanders for 1993-94 and back to the Flyers last season.
"I love playing here," said Hextall. "I was very disappointed when I got traded from here. . . . Now I'm in a situation here where I'm with a great hockey team. Our defense is super, very mobile and takes away second shots. I'm in a perfect situation for a goalkeeper and I'm very aware of it."
Having their say
"I told [NHL vice president Brian] Burke this looks like Minnesota high school hockey to me. He threatens to fine me and says to keep my mouth shut, but I told him that the game's not just about Mario and Wayne. It's a good game the way it was."
Of course, Burke thinks it is about Mario and Wayne. Two seasons ago, sitting in the stands for a practice during the playoffs in Pittsburgh, Burke told a group of reporters that officials should give star players like Lemieux and Gretzky breaks that others are not given.
* Washington Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld, on team captain Dale Hunter: "Why doesn't someone nominate him for the Selke Trophy [which goes to the top defensive forward]? He plays against the other team's top line every night and he wins most of those battles despite being half their size and twice their age."
Around the rinks
Buffalo scouts have been seen at the New Jersey Devils' AHL affiliate games in Albany, N.Y., as rumors persist that the Sabres are about to trade Pat LaFontaine. Another future home for the American-born center could be Philadelphia, where Hextall says he thinks getting LaFontaine would be great, except "he makes an awful lot of money and that comes into it. None of us knows how serious our management is about it." . . . Former Capitals goalie Byron Dafoe, who had gotten off to such a terrific start with the Los Angeles Kings, has lost his past seven starts. . . . Keenan returned home from a practice last month to find his two Harley Davidson motorcycles stolen and his Mercedes rag top slashed. Maybe it was a Curtis Joseph fan. When Edmonton put the former Blues goalie in the starting lineup Jan. 16, Blues management (re: Keenan) insisted that the Oilers' starting lineup not be read over the public-address system at the Kiel Center.