As the National Hockey League enters the second month of the regular season, everything is not proceeding exactly according to expectations.
A couple of things are dramatically different. For one, the Philadelphia Flyers are usually winging away to the best start. Instead, they are off to a shaky beginning.
For another, the perennial scoring champion, Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky, has usually pulled away from his pursuers on his way to another individual title. Instead, he's locked in an all-out battle with Mario Lemieux.
The big, burly Lemieux scored two more goals Tuesday night at Pittsburgh to lead the Penguins to a 5-1 victory that dropped the Flyers deeper into the cellar in the Patrick Division.
Lemieux's two goals gave him a league-leading 15 in just 13 games, and his 28 points tied him with Gretzky for first place in points. A year ago, Gretzky was six points ahead and finished 73 ahead of Lemieux.
The Flyers, as they often do, opened last season at 10-2-1, the best record in the league.
The loss to the Penguins, which dropped them eight points out of first place, gave the Flyers a 4-7-2 record this season.
Although the Flyers are without Tim Kerr, a 50-goal scorer, until January because of a shoulder injury, there wasn't much concern when the Flyers were 3-4-1 in their first eight games. After all, the NHL's All-Star goalie, Ron Hextall, was on suspension and missed them.
They felt the return of Hextall assured a resurgence. Not so. If anything, the Flyers have played worse since Hextall rejoined them.
This loss in which Randy Cunneyworth also scored twice, gave them a 1-3-1 record behind Hextall. Hextall, who posted a 3.00 goals-against record as a rookie last season, and was even better in the Stanley Cup (2.77), has given up 19 goals in 5 games.
The defense hasn't been the only problem. The power play has ceased to function. In this game against Pat Riggin, the Flyers had a man advantage on seven occasions and failed to convert one of them. They have failed in their last 43 power-play chances.
"I really don't know how to explain what happened to our power play," Coach Mike Keenan said. "Things are compounding themselves. It's unfortunate. You would think that without even practicing, you would score at least one goal in 40 chances."
New York Islanders 6, New Jersey 3--Some teams still may be taking the Devils lightly, but the Islanders are not one of them.
"This was a game for first place," goalie Kelly Hrudey said after making 31 saves at Uniondale, N.Y., to help the Islanders improve their lead in the Patrick Division to two points. "We know the Devils are a tough team. When they had the two-man advantage in the first period I knew I couldn't let them score."
He didn't, and with Paul Flatley scoring twice in the first period, the Islanders took a 3-1 lead and never looked back.
Washington 3, Vancouver 2--With less than three minutes remaining at Landover, Md., Bob Gould took a pass from Peter Sundstrom and scored his first goal of the season. The loss extended the Canucks' winless streak to seven games.
The Capitals built a 2-0 lead in 14 minutes, but, with the help of a disputed goal in the final minute of the second period, the Canucks fought back to tie the score on a goal by Tony Tanti halfway through the third period.
Quebec 4, St. Louis 3--Alan Haworth scored two of his three goals in the final period at Quebec as the Nordiques ended a two-game losing streak at home.
Haworth broke a 2-2 tie with 5:28 left, then 61 seconds later scored again for his hat trick.
Detroit 2, Minnesota 2--A solid performance by goalie Greg Stefan at Detroit allowed the Red Wings to extend their unbeaten string against the North Stars to nine games.
Stefan had 30 saves, including a number of spectacular ones. A power-play goal by Brian MacLellan early in the final period gave the North Stars the tie.
Calgary 5, New York Rangers 3--Hot-shooting Brett Hull scored two more goals at Calgary as the Flames handed the Rangers their fourth consecutive defeat.
Hull's second goal and fifth of the season tied the score in the second period. John Tonelli scored late in the period to put Calgary in front to stay.