Avery is NHL's enemy No. 1

Mike Zeisberger

, Last Updated: 11:17 PM ET

Many NHLers in the east already were snoozing in the wee hours yesterday morning when Kirk Maltby slammed his fist into the schnozz of NHL bad boy Sean Avery out in Los Angeles.

Thank heaven for replays.

You can bet there was a collective cheer later in the day from Maltby's peers around the league when they finally had the opportunity to watch the video of the roundhouse left hook that pancaked Avery's nose in the waning moments of the Red Wings' 5-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center.

His schtick obviously having worn thin throughout the league, Avery has become the most targeted man in hockey.

Opponents like Maltby and Georges Laraque both tangled with the yappie Kings forward this week, evidently sick and tired of hearing Avery flap his gums.

The suits at NHL headquarters, meanwhile, are monitoring Avery almost every time a microphone is shoved in his face, fearful of the potential P.R. disaster that might come out whenever the Pickering native opens his mouth.

NHL officials were handcuffed while reviewing the incident earlier this week in which Laraque alleged he was called "a monkey" by Avery. Because no one else heard the supposed racial slur against the Edmonton Oilers forward, there was not enough evidence to take action against Avery.

"I'm not deaf. I heard it or I wouldn't have done this," Laraque said of his decision to inform the league of his charges.

Besides, what's an enforcer to do? Start pummeling Avery and end up costing his team with penalty time and a possible suspension?

"If Georges grabs him and breaks his face is it worth it? Probably not." Oilers forward Ethan Moreau said.

After once again pleading his innocence to the press earlier in the day Thursday, Avery was jousting with the Red Wings' Chris Chelios when he took a swing at Maltby, who had entered the melee. A fired-up Maltby responded by belting Avery in the beak.

Avery and Maltby once played together on the same Wings team, but that matters little now.

Maltby, in fact, is not the only former teammate who has an axe to grind with Avery. One-time King Ian Laperriere, now with the Colorado Avalanche, was livid at Avery's recent comments directed at the league's francophone contingent.

The statement in question came after Avery was asked about a Denis Gauthier pre-season hit on Jeremy Roenick that left JR concussed.

"I think it was typical of most French guys in our league with a visor on, running around and playing tough and not back anything up,"Avery said of Gauthier.

A steamed Laperriere called Avery out after hearing those remarks.

"If he's looking for a French guy who will back it up, I'm his guy," Laperriere told the Rocky Mountain News. "Print it. I'll be more than happy to back it up.

"It's a racial thing," Laperierre said. "If he said anything about any other ethnic (group), you'd get fined, suspended. You can't say that."

Don't be surprised if Avery continues to find opponents taking runs at him.

Consistently putting your foot -- or in this instance, skate -- in your mouth doesn't earn you a lot of friends or respect in the hockey world.

Battle of Alberta: New Era

Looking into our crystal ball, here's our take on the newest chapter of the Battle of Alberta, which kicks off tonight in Calgary.

Edmonton Oilers newcomer Chris Pronger goes into the corner with Jarome (The Franchise) Iginla and administers a thorough face wash to the Flames captain. Iginla holds his own until re-enforcements arrive. All hell breaks loose.

Sounds like a great way for the likes of the Oilers Pronger and Michael Peca to be introduced to the bitter provincial rivalry, not to mention new Flames Tony Amonte and Roman Hamrlik.

But while Pronger,Peca and Amonte steal the headlines, it is rugged Flames rookie Dion Phaneuf who might have the final say, likely with his hip or his fists.

Phaneuf, whose crushing body checks remind many observers of those once delivered by recently retired Scott Stevens, has been a force during his brief stint in the NHL. Just ask the Dallas Stars' Bill Guerin, who dropped the gloves with the Flames freshman Thursday night.

"I was figuring out that if he's 20, he was five or six when I broke into the league," Guerin said. "I'm pretty impressed with him -- he's a pretty tough kid.

"He's got a good reputation coming into the league. You can tell he is a good player and he's going to be around a long time."

Bowling for goalies

It was a week dominated by goaltenders howling in protest at being bowled over.

Now that defenceman can no longer work over opposing forwards in front of the net, some netminders have become free game for wannabe goal scorers, causing the likes of Martin Brodeur and Jose Theodore to cry out.

Asked yesterday about the trend toward bumping goalies, Florida Panthers' standout Roberto Luongo was not as livid as Brodeur and Theodore, his fellow Quebec puckstoppers.

"I've been hit a couple times but the refs have said the guys were pushed into me.

"And I've yet to have a goaltender interference called when it happens," Luongo said.

Expect those goaltender interference calls to increase.

"We're fully aware of the trend and will act accordingly," NHL vice president Mike Murphy said.

Ice chips

Eric Daze is out indefinitely with what the Chicago Blackhawks are calling a strained back muscle. An MRI taken last weekend showed no structural damage, but the team has said that in the past prior to announcing a surgery. Daze has had three back surgeries, but the Hawks gambled he would be fine. It could be GM Dale Tallon's first big mistake. A fourth back surgery could end Daze's career, and he's only 30 ... Gary Roberts was scheduled to resume practising with the Florida Panthers yesterday after being sidelined with a groin injury. "I've been through this before," said the former Leaf, adding that he "lumbered" through the team's first four games.


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