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Slap shots

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 24, 2002

Beast in the Southeast

The Southeast Division, long the focus of so much derision, made a good showing the first quarter of the season.

No one is trembling -- its record outside the division was 24-31-12-4 -- but entering Saturday, the Lightning was No. 3 in the East, the Hurricanes were No. 5 and the Panthers had the same point total as the Rangers, who held the conference's final playoff spot.

"I haven't heard too many jokes lately about the South-least," Lightning general manager Jay Feaster said.

A big factor: goaltending. With Atlanta signing Byron Dafoe, the division is loaded with Tampa Bay's Nikolai Khabibulin, Florida's Robert Luongo, Carolina's Kevin Weekes and Arturs Irbe, and Washington's Olaf Kolzig.

"It's weird," Lightning center Brad Richards said. "We pick a year to be in first place, and three teams are battling within four points of one another. It's good, though. I think hockey needs the southern teams to compete more. It's not good for us, but we can't worry about what other teams do. If we play the way we can and get our points, we'll be all right."

Polite conversation

Ever wonder what players say during those scrums that are becoming less and less frequent because of the hurry-up line changes?

"A lot of it is challenging a guy's bravery and his courage," Coyotes defenseman Todd Simpson said. "There's a lot of name-calling. The words 'weasel' and 'little puke' seem to come out a lot."

"Oh, you could write it," Lightning left wing Chris Dingman said of the more colorful language, "but it would come out sounding like this: Osbourne's on MTV, where it's 'Why you little bleep, bleep, bleep. I ought to bleep, bleep, bleep you.' "

Five Questions with Islanders captain Michael Pecca:

Q : Your surgically repaired left knee took a direct hit recently. Any fears of re-injury?

A: I'm not worried about anything like that. It's just as likely to happen with my nonsurgically repaired knee.

Q : What's the worst part of missing games because of injury?

A: It's frustrating because you want to take part in all the emotions the team goes through. If they're winning, you want to be there to enjoy it. If they're losing, you want to be there to share that as well and do what you can to get them out of it.

Q : What's your prognosis?

A: Each game I'll play a little bit more just to get my confidence and composure back. It's a gradual process. It's more important I be patient with myself and try not to get back in the swing too soon.

Q : Have you come to terms with the hit by Darcy Tucker that took you out?

A: I came to terms with it long ago. I've been guilty of hitting people too high sometimes and hurting somebody. We choose this profession, and it comes with the risk of getting injured. I was injured but we're made to heal as well.

Q : As team captain have you addressed the reports of a split between the players and coach Peter Laviolette?

A: I don't think we need to address it because we know there's not a division. There's no dissension between us and the coach. The coach has our full respect. I've learned long ago, sources always come from agents and whomever. If it's one guy complaining, it's a whiner. If it's two guys complaining, it's a whiner and his friend.

Around the league

Buffalo businessman Mark Hamister and his partner, Todd Berman, who founded a New York investment firm, will buy the Sabres for a song: $60-million plus $30-million in assumed debt on the HSBC Arena lease that likely will be forgiven. ... To promote faster healing of his surgically repaired left shoulder, Phoenix's Brad May is taking occasional vitamin C intravenous drips. ... Bobby Holik, who signed a five-year, $45-million contract with the Rangers, missed 12 consecutive games with a hip flexor injury. He missed two games in six seasons with the Devils. ... Leafs wing Mikael Renberg was so touched by the story of Andreas Joanson, he is defraying the cost for Andreas, his father, a brother and a nurse to stay in a Toronto hotel and see some games. Joanson, a Swedish teen who lives near Renberg's hometown of Pitea, was paralyzed from the neck down in a hockey accident.

Quotable

"Some general managers shop at Neiman Marcus in the summer. I shop at Wal-Mart after the season starts." -- Thrashers GM Don Waddell after signing Dafoe to a bargain $1.25-million this season with an option for $3-million next season.

-- Compiled by Damian Cristodero using personal interviews and information from other news organizations.

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