On Hockey

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:37 AM ET

When Maple Leafs' Jason Allison left Tuesday's game with a broken finger after blocking a shot, it was just the latest in a series of such incidents.

On Dec. 2, Phillipe Boucher of the Dallas Stars suffered a broken middle finger when it was hit by a puck. He came back for a couple of games but has been shut down again to let it heal completely.

Back on Nov. 13, Martin St. Louis left the ice with his finger shattered and spurting blood. The nail had to be removed and he was supposed to miss up to four weeks. But after two games, St. Louis (no doubt one of those spoiled, unmotivated players we heard so much about during the lockout) returned, and has played through the pain.

Almost two weeks ago, Nolan Baumgartner of the Vancouver Canucks had the top of a finger severed during a game. He subsequently underwent surgery and had it re-attached.

Perhaps this rash of similar accidents is nothing more than coincidence. Then again, perhaps the league should take a look at some of the gloves that are in use in the NHL.

Players have long modified their gloves. Carl Brewer used to cut out the palms. Pavel Bure wore such flimsy gloves that Harry Neale, his coach at the time, said he owned gardening gloves that would provide more protection.

But in its usual shrug-and-a-wink fashion, the NHL let players start using sticks manufactured from space-age material that allow even the clumsiest player to unleash powerful shots.

And that may have a lot more to do with the broken fingers than anything else.

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

General manager Lou Lamoriello of the New Jersey Devils is behind the bench these days.

But assistant coach Jacques Laperriere changes the defence and assistant coach John MacLean changes the forwards.

What is Lamoriello doing? Basically, he is trying to get a handle on the team's personnel problems. He is trying to find out who is his type of player and who isn't.

In an earlier era, people such as Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko and Martin Brodeur followed the party line -- drank the Kool-Aid, as the saying goes.

They took less money than they were worth on the open market. They allowed themselves to be treated like immature adolescents. They shrugged off the snooping and spying that is part of life as a Devil. And they came down hard on anyone who had the temerity to suggest that life in hockey's gulag was anything less than perfect.

But Stevens and Daneyko retired, and Brodeur matured. As a result, there are no trustees Lamoriello can use to supervise the inmates.

The view from the bench might provide some insights, but it won't be easy to find a head coach to work under those conditions.

A purely personal off-the-wall pick? What about Mario Tremblay? He has improved dramatically during his tenure as an assistant to Jacques Lemaire in Minnesota.

And Lemaire is one of Lamoriello's favourite coaches.

ISLAND EXPLOSION

Another eruption of Mount Milbury, an explosion that is never distant, may be imminent.

The New York Islanders started well, but have been slipping lately. And when that happens, Mad Mike Milbury starts to get antsy.

The first rumblings were heard this week when he said: "I'm not happy with our team. I'm not happy with our commitment to team defence. If we don't turn things around soon, and I mean very soon, I'm going to have to do something."

It could be pointed out that if the team defence is suspect, perhaps the GM who gave away so many top-flight defenders over the years could be to blame.

Then again, if Milbury doesn't like what he sees, perhaps he could fire the coach and put his own posterior on the line, as Lamoriello has done in New Jersey.

Milbury scoffed at that concept. "Better him than me," he said.

GLOVES STAYING ON

It's fairly clear that fighting is becoming less of a factor in NHL games.

Even though the numbers are up from last season -- when there were none -- they are down from the previous two seasons.

In 2002-03, there was at least one fight in 38% of the games. The following year, than number rose to 41%.

But this year, fans get to see a fight in only 29% of the games.

They are still as popular as ever, and surveys consistently show that an overwhelming segment of hockey's fan base enjoys fighting in the game. But the speed of today's game makes fighting less likely.

Furthermore, it's clear that you can be successful without doing a lot of fighting. The Detroit Red Wings, the top team in the West, have had only four fights this year.

On the other hand, the Dallas Stars who are fifth in the West, went into last night's action with a league-leading, 26 fighting majors. Winger Steve Ott has been involved in nine of them.

TAKING A SHOT

When the Ottawa Senators were awarded a penalty shot against the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday, anyone on the ice could have been designated to take it.

The players clamored for defenceman Chris Phillips and coach Bryan Murray demurred. "I thought he must be really good at it or something," Murray said.

He wasn't. Phillips floated a feeble shot into Cam Ward's pads.

It seems that the Senators were ahead 5-1 and Phillips hadn't had a goal this season so his teammates tried to help his cause.

After the easy victory, Phillips was able to laugh about it and said that since his teammates had picked him, he asked them what to do.

"I got some bad advice," he said. "They told me to shoot right at his pads."

Unfortunately, his shot was right on target.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Another one of the NHL's best referees is out of action. Rob Shick will be gone up to six weeks with a broken bone in his foot. The league is also without the services of Don Van Massenhoven who was hit in the face with a puck and suffered a broken orbital bone ... Alex Tanguay finally scored on Friday, but he has been terrible since learning that he wasn't to be a part of the Canadian Olympic team. He was dropped from the top line on the Avs and has been playing with Ian Laperriere and Brett McLean ... The Philadelphia Flyers' penalty-killing was atrocious at the start of the season, but lately it's one of the best in the league. It's worth noting that the improvement coincides with the return of Sami Kapanen.


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