The Philadelphia Flyers were quite a surprise early this season. It was hard to believe that a team with such outstanding talent could play so poorly.
The Flyers were 6-13-3 in the first 22 games and in last place in the Patrick Division, 14 points out of first place.
Coach Mike Keenan couldn't understand what had happened to his team, which was only one victory from winning the Stanley Cup last season. But he did know that he needed to do something to get them together. The solution: a few days of togetherness at Lake Placid, N.Y.
It has worked wonders.
Mark Howe, whose early play was far below All-Star caliber, scored at 4:30 of overtime Saturday night at Uniondale, N.Y., to give the Flyers a 5-4 victory over the New York Islanders. The third-place Flyers, who are 9-0-2 in the last 11 games, are only three points behind the division-leading Islanders.
The Flyers' second win over the Islanders in three nights was decided on power plays. The Islanders went 0 for 8, and the Flyers were 4 for 7. Scott Mellanby and Peter Zezel each scored twice when the Islanders were short-handed.
Despite their ineffectiveness with a manpower advantage, the Islanders held leads of 2-0 and 3-2.
"I knew we weren't as bad as we appeared to be early," Keenan said. "And we're probably not as good as our recent play, but we are playing together. And Ron (Hextall) has regained his best form."
The Islanders fired 32 shots at Hextall. After Greg Gilbert got the Islanders even, 4-4, midway through the second period, Hextall stopped the last 16 shots to earn the victory.
Besides Howe's fifth goal of the season, the Flyers, playing tight defense to protect the slim lead, had only three other shots in the last 20 minutes.
Buffalo 2, Montreal 1--The one-month layoff has helped Jacques Cloutier become a hot goaltender. The Sabres brought Cloutier off the bench at Buffalo Friday night, and he stopped 39 Montreal shots to earn a 2-2 tie for the Sabres.
He came right back for the return match at Montreal and was even better. This time, he stopped 38 shots, including 17 in a hectic last period, and put an end to the Canadiens' nine-game unbeaten streak.
Doug Smith and Adam Creighton scored the Sabres' two goals in the first period.
Hartford 4, Edmonton 3--Paul Lawless scored on a breakaway at 5:55 of the third quarter as the Whalers won for the first time at Edmonton.
The Whalers had been 0-11-2 at Edmonton, and when the Oilers scored twice in the first period, it appeared that they would lose another.
But the Whalers held Wayne Gretzky scoreless, fought back to take the lead. It was 3-3 when Lawless scored his second goal of the season.
Pittsburgh 4, New York Rangers 3--With Paul Coffey in the lineup, the Penguins are almost unbeatable. After missing three games with minor injuries, the high-scoring defenseman returned for this game at Pittsburgh.
Coffey assisted on two goals, and with Gilles Meloche stopping 43 shots, 18 of them in the last 20 minutes, the Penguins' record with Coffey improved to 6-1-1.
Randy Cunneyworth scored twice for the Penguins, who lead the Rangers, the Patrick Division's last-place club, by seven points.
St. Louis 7, Boston 5--The Blues spotted the Bruins a 3-0 lead in seven minutes at Boston, then battled back for a victory in a game that produced the fastest two goals in history.
Ken Linseman cut the Blues' lead to 6-5 when he scored with 10 seconds left in regulation. For the next faceoff, the Bruins removed goalie Doug Keans for an extra attacker. The Blues' Doug Gilmour got the puck off the faceoff and fired it into the net, just two seconds after Linseman's goal. The previous record had been four seconds.
Chicago 6, Toronto 2--Troy Murray scored twice at Toronto to lead the Blackhawks to their second straight road victory. Before winning earlier this week, the Blackhawks had lost 12 consecutive road games.
New Jersey 3, Minnesota 1--In a battle of two slumping teams at Bloomington, Minn., Craig Wolanin scored the decisive goal in the second period, and the Devils ended a four-game losing streak. The North Stars have lost five in a row.