Yzerman's fast start shows he's not on last leg
Monday, November 17, 2003 By Ansar Khan
DETROIT -- When doctors took a saw to Steve Yzerman's right knee some 15 months ago, realigning the bones in a rare surgical procedure for a professional athlete, it was believed to be the beginning of the end for the Detroit Red Wings captain.
Instead, it seems to have led to a rebirth because Yzerman doesn't resemble a player on his last leg.
From his winning goal with 1.7 seconds to play in the season-opener against Los Angeles to his clutch third-period game-tying goal at Minnesota on Saturday, Yzerman has been perhaps the team's most valuable player, certainly its best forward. Had he retired after last season, this club might be in dire straits right now. But a long summer apparently is just what he needed to re-energize.
"Maybe he's got some of Igor Larionov's red wine," Wings coach Dave Lewis said, referring to the beverage the former Wing often cited as his fountain of youth. "(Yzerman) has such inner strength and inner focus, when he comes to the rink he comes to play. He has such a high standard that anything else is unacceptable."
Yzerman leads the team with nine goals and has 14 points in 17 games. Last season, he had just two goals and nine points in 20 games, including the playoffs, after returning from his osteotomy.
He must be having more fun now.
"Some nights," Yzerman said after the 1-1 draw with the Wild. "Some nights it's a struggle. I'm happy to be back and able to keep up with the play. I feel like I'm doing more than just getting by.
"Hopefully it continues. I'm not going to look at it too deeply."
Nobody was certain how Yzerman's knee would react. The Wings didn't plan on playing him on consecutive nights, and they expected to trim his ice time. Instead, he's sat out only one game and his ice time is increasing -- he's averaged more than 20 minutes in four of the last five games.
"The minutes don't seem to bother him," Lewis said. "He's doing all the things he's done in the past -- that stop move, little tricks down low, spins. Defensively he's doing the right things, picking players' pockets, blocking shots. He's got the complete game right now."
Yzerman's performance has been crucial for a team that lost Henrik Zetterberg for four-to-six weeks with a broken leg on Nov. 3.
"He's skating real well, especially when he starts and stops and he's pulling up," defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. "I think he still has that speed, he's so quick when he stops and goes the other way. You can't tell he had that knee surgery done the way he can move out there."
The Wings are unbeaten in four games (3-0-1) and in the midst of a three-day break. They will play games on consecutive nights in each of the next seven weeks. Chances are, Yzerman will be playing in most of them.
"With Mac (Darren McCarty) and Hank (Zetterberg) out (with injuries), we don't have the luxury of resting or taking nights off," Yzerman said. "I feel reasonably well. I'll take more practices off than games at this stage. I didn't feel bad after (Friday) night or (Saturday). I'll just continue to go along and see how I feel. We don't really have a plan."
Said Lewis: "There's no crystal ball. As long as he's healthy and feels good, (he'll play). We'll have that communication open with him and the trainer so that we do the right thing for him and the team."