Educating Rita!

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

Nobody can argue with Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish when it comes to evaluating, and knowing when to give up, on talent.

Former high picks Michel Riesen, Michael Henrich and Alex Semenov didn't exactly prove them wrong after being cut loose. Neither did Janne Niinimaa, Eric Brewer, Tom Poti or Jason Chimera. And anyone who watched the World Juniors knows they made the right call on Robbie Schremp.

But he and the Oilers brass should be a little nervous about Jani Rita. He's still young enough, with fantastic skills and physical tools, to come back and haunt them.

All players gripe about never getting a chance when a team gives up on them, but in Rita's case it's true. Six minutes a night on the fourth line, knowing he'd be stapled to the bench or banished to the press box if he made a mistake, left him rattled and scared.

He didn't show much here, not the kind of zest and hunger the Oilers wanted, but if another team can kickstart his heart and his confidence they might have something good.

Craig Patrick is betting that Rita was simply miscast in Edmonton.

"If he's going to be successful in the NHL, he can't be on the fourth line,'' the Pens GM told Pittsburgh reporters. "He has to be on a higher line than that.''

KASPAR IS NOT SO FRIENDLY

Nice call by Colin Campbell for giving Ranger defenceman Darius Kasparaitis a free pass for his head shot on Grant Marshall. Forget how bad it looks that a former Ranger coach ruled in favour of his old team, Campbell's legendary leniency is getting old. And you have to wonder if players are getting injured because the league seldom hands down anything stiffer than a wrist slap.

"I think they turned a blind eye to that one,'' Marshall said, adding Buffalo's Tim Connolly wouldn't be out six weeks if Kasparaitis had been suspended. "Colin Campbell's not doing his job.''

BUZZER BEATEN

You can't blame the Florida Panthers if they lobby the NHL for 59-minute games. They've given up the tying or winning goal in the final minute 10 times this season, winning just twice. Had they closed out the wins and got at least a point for the games that were tied, they'd be in seventh, not 12th. The good news is that with so many Canadian defencemen on the limp (McCabe, Jovanovski, Scott Niedermayer), Jay Bouwmeester is being considered for an Olympic spot.

THIRD AND GOAL IN FINLAND

Is Finnish Olympic team GM Jari Kurri having fun yet? First Miikka Kiprusoff pulls out of the Olympics to rest up for the stretch drive, now Atlanta's Kari Lehtonen pulls the pin to rest his sore groin. Kurri still has Antero Niittymaki in Philly. For now ... And if you're the Flyers, do you want Peter Forsberg, who's out for a few games with another groin pull, coming back to play for Sweden in 18 days, or getting healthy for your Cup run?

WILD ON EDMONTON

With red hot Manny Fernandez having secured the No. 1 job in Minnesota, Dwayne Roloson, unrestricted this summer, is up for grabs. And, yes, the Oilers have placed a call to Doug Risebrough, their former assistant GM.

THAT'S A FINE MESH

There's no coasting on a Darryl Sutter team, it doesn't matter who you are. The Flames are fighting for first and might have the best goalie in the league, but the backup had a bad game and Sutter went off the dial. He ripped Philippe Sauve a new five hole and put him on waivers following a 7-4 loss in which Sauve skated the length of the ice to scrap with David Aebischer. "We're only as good as our weakest player and the other night he was our weakest player, it's not acceptable,'' Sutter told the Calgary Sun. "We have two goalies playing in Omaha and there are 20 in the NHL that could move here tomorrow.''

Of the scrap, Sutter said: "Too bad his game plan was to be a fighter. It should have been to stop pucks.''

ISLES BE MISSING YOU

How are the Isles going to get by without Mike Milbury? More importantly, how are all of his trading partners. During his less than glorious tenure, Milbury traded away: Zdeno Chara, Todd Bertuzzi, Roberto Luongo, Olli Jokinen, Bryan McCabe and the second pick overall in the 2001 draft (Jason Spezza). Then he fired Peter Laviolette. In his defence, he did lock Alexei Yashin in for 10 years.

BIGGER THEY ARE, THE HARDER ...

Watch out for some potential fireworks next time Montreal plays Ottawa. Not only are the Habs mad at Dominik Hasek for making fun of their pathetic 12-shot effort, but Raitis Ivanans, Montreal's six-foot-four, 263-pound enforcer, is vowing revenge on six-foot-nine, 260-pound Zdeno Chara for breaking his orbital bone in a fight three months ago. Ivanans, recently recalled from the minors, believes Chara hit him late, when he was being held by the referee.

MIGHTY STUPID

It's about time the Mighty Ducks changed their ridiculous name. Even their own guys thought it was a silly notion in the first place. The L.A. Times reports that when Disney's Michael Eisner tried to name the ball team The Mighty Angels of Anaheim, former Disney sports chief Tony Tavares called it "the second stupidist idea I've ever heard in the history of sports.'' Mighty Ducks being first.

TORONTO MAKE BELEAVES

How much respect are the Leafs losing? Hasek had this to say after the Sens continued their lopsided domination: "When we play the way we're supposed to we can beat them any time.'' A few days later, Buffalo rookie Tomas Vanek showed a similar lack of reverence after an 8-4 Sabres win: "I don't think they're bad. I just think they weren't very ready to play.''

DOT, DOT, DOT

The Senators signed winger Cory Pecker to a minor league deal. Speaking of which, how is Ron Tugnutt these days? ... Between a long road trip and the Olympics, the Chicago Blackhawks don't play a single home game in February ... The Predators are 18-2-3 in one-goal games this season ... Unheralded Avalanche rookie Marek Svatos has more game-winning goals (8) than Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin combined (6) ... And this just in from Madison Square Garden: The Mark Messier retirement ceremony just ended.

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BIG GAMES THIS WEEK

TODAY

MONTREAL AT TORONTO: A battle of slumping Original Six teams with slumping goalies. Should be fun.

MONDAY, JAN. 30

SHARKS AT STARS: Surging San Jose is 7-2-1 in the last 10, Dallas is 8-2. Big Pacific Battle.

THURSDAY, FEB. 2

COLUMBUS AT EDMONTON: BJ's are getting better, and it's the first chance to see the new Oilers in person.

FRIDAY, FEB. 3

VANCOUVER AT CALGARY: Another high-stakes showdown between a pair of Northwest powers.


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