Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

One Grand King

Robitaille Only Two Points Shy of Joining Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor Among Kings at 1,000-Point Mark

October 11, 2000|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was 14 years and two days now, 998 points as a King ago.

Luc Robitaille took a pass from veteran Marcel Dionne and popped the puck into the St. Louis Blues' net at the Forum to score his first NHL goal.

Then he jumped into Dionne's car and chauffeured him home to Palos Verdes Estates, where as the new kid in town, earning rookie wages, Robitaille got bed, board and enough of Dionne's Quebecois French to keep from getting homesick for his native Montreal until Southern California English took hold.

It began a string of opening-game fortune in which he has scored in 12 of 15 openers, including twice against the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

Fast-forward to tonight, and the digs are new--Staples Center--but the opponent is the same, albeit several NHL generations different. When the Blues come to call, Robitaille will need only two points to join Dave Taylor (1,069) and Dionne (1,307) among Kings at the 1,000-point mark.

After he gets the points, whether it be tonight or later this week or next, he'll get into his SUV and ride home to his own digs in Brentwood, where he lives in the style that a $3.5-million salary can buy.

"I don't know," Robitaille says, laughing. "Maybe it was better deal. I didn't have to worry about write-offs, nothing."

The games and miles on ice have earned him 557 goals, four in three games already this season in part of a three-year acquaintanceship with the Fountain of Youth that has resurrected his career and has him in a good position to negotiate a new contract when his current deal runs out after this season.

The decade-long battle between Robitaille and the weight room is over and the barbells won.

"The last three years have been the best years because I've gotten stronger and I'm actually quicker than I was when I was younger," Robitaille says in a familiar refrain for self-delusional thirtysomething athletes.

In this case, though, management learned it was true when players were put through tests in training camp and Robitaille was the fastest King from the goal line to the first blue line.

"That's what I worked at this summer, being explosive," he said.

While Robitaille was building his muscles, Coach Andy Murray was envisioning line combinations. Murray saw the Kings as a mini-United Nations and figured a line of Slovaks Jozef Stumpel and Ziggy Palffy and Czech rookie Tomas Vlasak could be an Eastern European powerhouse.

That left Robitaille with Bryan Smolinski and Glen Murray.

The grand experiment fell apart when Stumpel didn't sign and Vlasak was found wanting in consistency, and when Robitaille went scoreless through exhibition games.

Still, it was always conducted with a proviso. "We know we can always put Robitaille back with Palffy," Murray said.

It was mixing media when the Kings reunited them to start the season at Washington.

Palffy is an artist to whom ice is a canvas. Smolinski and Murray are house painters applying a coat of white to the rink. Both are necessary for a team to win, but Robitaille works better when there is a Monet to get him the puck.

He learned that when the artist was Wayne Gretzky.

"Ziggy is a great player to beat guys one on one," Robitaille said. "Any time you can play with players who can beat a guy one on one--which is a really hard thing to do in this league--it usually will create an extra second for me to get open.

"And he's a great passer. Obviously, Wayne is apart from everybody else, but aside from Wayne he's one of the best passers I've ever played with. I think his passing is overlooked."

A glance at Robitaille's first goal Monday at Columbus demonstrated their symbiosis.

In the early moments of a 7-1 King victory, Palffy shot the puck, took it back on the rebound and was sailing past the net when he backhanded it to Robitaille, who stood alone.

Blue Jacket goalie Marc Denis had to go with Palffy, and Robitaille merely filled an open net for a 1-0 lead.

To the casual observer, Palffy's pass seemed blind.

It wasn't.

"When he threw it back at me, I knew that he knew I was there," Robitaille said. "I didn't yell for it. He just knew I'd stop."

Said Palffy: "I saw him. I was going behind the net, but I knew he'd be there. He's a typical goal-scorer. You know he's going to score."

Said Murray of Robitaille: "It's like he has a magnet in his stick."

Added Palffy: "He's called 'Lucky,' but it isn't all luck. He has talent and experience."

The experience may be the key to it all.

"When Luc is there to score, it's because he's been there to score so many times before," Murray says. "In my clinics, I talk about what I call 'deja vu' coaching, where you know what to do in any situation because you've envisioned doing it.

"He's been to those spots to score, so he knows to go there again."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|