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PRESSURE IS OFF KINGS' MELANSON : Opening Game Is His Only Goal

September 23, 1987|JERRY CROWE | Times Staff Writer

VICTORIA, Canada — Taking advantage of some extra free time, Rollie Melanson saw several movies last weekend. One of his favorites was "Fatal Attraction."

"Very suspenseful," he said.

There has been no such suspense with Melanson at the Kings' training camp.

While four other goalies--Bob Janecyk, Al Jensen, Glenn Healy and Mark Fitzpatrick--fight for a spot on the roster, which team officials have said will include only two goaltenders, Melanson quietly prepares for next month's season opener.

He did not play in any of the three exhibition games against the Vancouver Canucks.

What's important to the Kings is that Melanson be ready to play Oct. 8 at the Forum against the New York Islanders.

That's the first game that counts.

Unlike a year ago, when he was in his third different training camp in three years and struggling to regain his confidence, Melanson has been designated as the Kings' No. 1 goalie.

And the Kings, confident that Melanson's noteworthy second-half performance last season will carry over into this season, have said that they would like him to play in as many as 60 games.

All of which is fine with Melanson, who appreciates the respect and craves the work.

"The more games I play, the better it is for me," he said. "I need a lot of work to be effective."

Melanson, 27, said that part of his problem at the start of last season, when he lost his first four starts, was that his time on the ice had been so limited.

Working in a three-goalie system with Janecyk and Darren Eliot, Melanson played in only 4 of the Kings' first 17 games. His confidence level plummeted.

Traded twice in two seasons, first from the Islanders to the Minnesota North Stars and then from the North Stars to the Kings, Melanson thought time was running out on him.

"I never stopped believing in myself," he said. "I knew it was going to come around. The problem was that I didn't feel that I had that much time to really show it. I felt like last year really was the year I had to come through."

But then he started poorly. The season was more than a month old before he got his first victory.

"I guess he went in expecting a lot from himself and putting pressure on himself," said Phil Myre, the Kings' goaltending coach. "He needed to build some momentum and to build his self-image again because he'd had two or three years where he didn't play much and didn't have a lot of success.

"It took him awhile to get that feeling again of playing regularly and not having to worry about where he was going to be and what was going to happen."

Once he regained his confidence, Melanson was "one of the top two or three goalies in the league" during the second half of the season, said Rogie Vachon, the Kings' general manager.

"His record should have been much better than it was," Vachon said of Melanson, who started 34 of the Kings' last 46 games and finished with an 18-21-6 record and a 3.69 goals-against average. "He was solid every game. He didn't give up bad goals and he was very steady all the time."

Playing behind a defense that broke down frequently, Melanson faced an inordinate number of shots.

"He saved our bacon many a night," Coach Mike Murphy said.

Melanson said that he really wasn't aware of how much his confidence had slipped until he got it back.

"And then I realized the kind of rut I'd put myself into," he said. "A lot of my problems were my fault."

Surviving the trauma of being traded twice in such a short period of time helped to toughen him mentally, he said.

"It's so much easier to deal with things," he said. "If I have a bad game or go into a rut, I know I'm going to come out of it. It wasn't enjoyable to go through, but it's something that really worked to my benefit."

Melanson called last season a building block and said his confidence level this fall is at an all-time high.

"Once I've got my game together, I know I have the potential to affect the outcome of a game--even when we're playing poorly," he said.

And knowing that the Kings hold him in such high regard, he said, has made training camp so much more . . .

Enjoyable?

"I don't know if you'd say it was fun," he said. "But knowing that you've put together a good season and that the organization respects that--I feel good about that."

King Notes The Kings released goaltender Greg Strome and left wing Tim Flanagan, and returned right wing Ross Wilson and defenseman Brian Hayton to their junior teams, leaving 49 players in camp. . . . Rogie Vachon said the Kings planned to cut about 15 players today and, after playing at Winnipeg Friday night, will return to Los Angeles Saturday with about 25 players, including 3 goaltenders. When the regular season starts, he said, only two goaltenders will still be with the team. "Three's a crowd," he said.

Rookie Mark Fitzpatrick, drafted in the second round last June, "is mixing the cards," Vachon said, meaning that Fitzpatrick, 19, has a chance to make the team. But Phil Myre, who coaches the goaltenders, said: "If he was going to stay in Los Angeles, we'd have to think he was going to be No. 1 and play over 40 games. Otherwise, we might as well send him back down and let him play." . . . Vachon said that King defenseman Petr Prajsler, the Czechoslovakian defector, "probably never saw more fights in his life" than he did in his first two games with the Kings. The Kings and Canucks combined for 48 penalties and 170 penalty minutes last Friday, and 39 penalties and 174 penalty minutes on Saturday. . . .Vancouver's Craig Coxe has been suspended by the NHL for leaving the penalty box in last Saturday's exhibition game against the Kings. He'll miss the first three games of the regular season.

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