Out of Yashin's Hands
Isles star not taking shots at linemates
By Alan Hahn
February 1, 2002
Alexei Yashin usually spends his mornings before a game working
diligently on his sticks in a quiet, almost meditative, trance. It's
a labor of love, because if the stick feels just right that night, it
certainly will love you back. A goal-scorer such as Yashin learns
that at an early age.
He also learns that goals come in bunches. That's just the way it
goes. Islanders coach Peter Laviolette said that Yashin told him
about that before the season. Then he went on to score a whole bunch
in the first 30 games of the season. Seventeen goals and 35 points in
the 30 games to be exact. He, along with Mark Parrish, who had 16
goals and 28 points in the first 23 games, were catalysts in the
Islanders' fast start to the season. And, deservedly so, both players
will represent the Islanders at the NHL All-Star Game this weekend in
Parrish will play for the North American team, while Yashin will
skate for the World team. It's fitting that they won't be teammates
because the two rarely have seen the ice together this season.
Laviolette was hesitant to put his two best offensive threats on the
same line because he didn't want to disrupt chemistry.
"Sometimes if you do that," Laviolette said of switching lines, "you
can screw them up, too."
It worked out well for Parrish, who leads the team with 24 goals and
has a good thing going with fellow Lucky 7's linemates Michael Peca
and Shawn Bates. But Yashin has been stuck with talented but
frustrating enigmas Brad Isbister and Oleg Kvasha, who have platooned
on his left wing, and hot-and-cold sniper Mariusz Czerkawski at right
wing. At times the line has shown tremendous potential, but overall
their collective ineffectiveness for most of the season has allowed
defenses to focus their attention on stopping Yashin. And in the 21
games before his three-goal performance Wednesday against the Rangers
in a 6-3 win at the Garden, Yashin was feeling the effects. He had
three goals in that span to fall below his typical 40-goal pace, but
still remains just six points behind the league lead with 52 points.
"It's what's happened to me the last four-to-five years I've played,"
he said of the defensive attention. "But it opens up so much space
for other guys . . . It's part of the learning process to make
scoring chances and then make them goals. That's the challenge."
Still, general manager Mike Milbury, trying to give Yashin some help
on the top line, in December pushed Chicago GM Mike Smith hard into
considering a trade for star winger Tony Amonte. Smith considered,
but didn't take the offer. Thus, Milbury has kept looking around for
top-level forward talent while also minding a higher priority for a
Yashin, however, is not wondering if help is still on the way. Nor is
he hoping something will happen.
"What's most important is we have to play a game today," he
said. "You have to keep focused on the success of the team. That's
more important than anything else. Rumors are rumors.
"I'm a professional hockey player. I can't be going around saying, 'I
can't play with this guy,' you know what I mean? Once I turned
professional, I stopped worrying about this stuff. What I want to do
is keep my focus on whatever guys are playing with me. I want to make
them better so they can put the puck in the net and win a hockey game
It hasn't been easy, especially when dealing with the infuriating
Kvasha. The coaching staff hoped Yashin's influence and guidance
would help the young fellow Russian find his game. But that has
failed thus far. Kvasha, 23, has been a disappointment and lately has
become a target of boos from Islanders fans.
Yashin doesn't like to talk about his teammates individually and
normally will decline comment. But at the Garden on Wednesday
morning, while tending to a stick that would produce his first
Islanders hat trick later that night, Yashin said in general that
there is a lot of learning left to be done with the resurgent
Islanders, who in recent years haven't come close to experiencing the
pressure and demands that come with winning. Especially once the
playoff drive begins after the All-Star and Olympic breaks.
"Every game teams are ready to play," he said, acknowledging that the
Islanders haven't been in this position in quite a few years. "It's
part of the learning experience. Hopefully we can learn how to play
that type of game and have success with it."
Young Stars Game,
NHL All-Star Game
At Los Angeles
TV: Ch. 7