LeClair off to slow start
Four games into the season, the Penguins are the only team in the NHL without a win, and John LeClair has no goals, two assists and is a minus-4.
This isn’t the start the veteran winger had in mind.
“It’s gone a little slow,” said LeClair, who will face his former team, the Philadelphia Flyers, on Friday.
LeClair, 36, was the Flyers’ third-leading scorer in 2003-04, with 23 goals and 32 assists for 55 points in 75 games. But like many veterans, he did not play last year during the lockout. Combine that with back surgery in May, a new team and a set of rules that have changed the way the game is played, and LeClair has had plenty to get used to in the last month.
The biggest adjustment hasn’t been the conditioning or physical fitness, he said, but rather the timing.
“It’s more all the stuff that comes natural, like getting into the scoring areas, going to open areas, a lot of instinct stuff that just wasn’t coming quite as quickly as it was before,” said LeClair, who’s ranked sixth in ice time among the Penguins forwards at 13 minutes, 56 seconds per game. “It’s getting a little easier now, the more we get into it. But it was a tough start.”
Mark Recchi, who played with LeClair on the Flyers from 1999-2004, said he wouldn’t necessarily classify his teammate as being off his game.
“Basically, I think he’s probably just pressing a little more than I’ve seen,” Recchi said. “Instead of him standing where he normally would, he’s jumping to somewhere else, and the puck’s going back to where he was. Just little things like that. He’s going to be fine. He’s an important part of this hockey club and this dressing room. I don’t worry about Johnny.”
LeClair and Recchi started on a line with Sidney Crosby when the Penguins held their intrasquad tournament during training camp, and the trio stayed together through opening night against the New Jersey Devils.
But after the Penguins found themselves down, 2-0, after the first period Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes, coach Eddie Olczyk switched his lineup.
Ziggy Palffy moved into LeClair’s spot, Konstantin Koltsov moved up to play with Mario Lemieux and Ryan Malone and LeClair found himself playing on the third line with Rico Fata and Matt Murley.
“I liked the way that line was playing,” Olczyk said of the LeClair-Recchi-Crosby combination. “But we didn’t seem like we were getting anything out of Mario’s line. They were creating, but not consistently, and that’s what you want is consistent balance. Johnny with Rico and Matt is just trying to get some depth and some chemistry going.”
Olczyk also stressed that it isn’t the offense that has the Penguins still searching for their first win of the year, but rather team defense.
As for LeClair, Olczyk said, he knows the points are going to come.
“We like the little things he’s doing, and he’s had some great opportunities,” Olczyk said. “Look at the Boston game; he had three or four really good opportunities to score. It just hasn’t happened.
“But you talk about paying a price in the Webster’s dictionary; Johnny’s picture’s there. He sacrifices, he pays a price and he knows how to create. You think of everything he’s been through off the ice; he hasn’t played in a long time. I like the way that he’s playing.”
Karen Price is a former freelancer.