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Leclerc Taking Some Pressure Off Duck Stars

Hockey: He is Anaheim's leading scorer after sparking a 4-3 victory over Islanders.

October 18, 2000|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne are unquestionably the Mightiest Ducks. Muzzle them and take your chances with the faceless cast that can't possibly compare to the all-star wingers.

Opponents have followed that game plan for several seasons and often emerged victorious, betting the other Ducks couldn't hit water if they fell from a boat.

Now meet Mike Leclerc, a 23-year-old power forward emerging as a third impact player for the Ducks, a guy who can wreak havoc in all sorts of ways.

Take Tuesday, when Leclerc scored a goal, added an assist, provided a key screen on a third goal and drew an interference penalty that set up the go-ahead power-play score in the Ducks' 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders before only 6,636 at the Nassau Coliseum.

Oh, and he also had a career-best seven shots on net, missing on several other point-blank chances to score in the first two periods only because of excellent saves by goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck.

Nobody asked Leclerc to drive the team bus back to the hotel, but perhaps only because it's mere paces from the arena.

"He's been our best player so far," Selanne said. "It's a big thing for our team. He's taking a lot of pressure off [the Kariya-Selanne tandem]. We have so much more depth now. Cully has played well and Marty too."

"Cully" is center Matt Cullen and Marty is right wing Marty McInnis, who teamed with Leclerc to give the Ducks a standout second line for the second consecutive game.

As in Monday's 4-3 victory over the New York Rangers, McInnis scored a first-period power-play goal to give the Ducks an early lead against the Islanders. McInnis assisted on Leclerc's goal, a flip over Vanbiesbrouck's left shoulder while cutting toward the net from a sharp angle to the goalie's left 6:44 into the second period.

Cullen had the second assist on Patrick Traverse's goal off a rebound of a point-blank shot by Leclerc at 11:05 of the second. Cullen also assisted on Selanne's go-ahead goal with the Ducks on a power play with 1.4 seconds left in the period.

"That line did a lot of good things tonight," Coach Craig Hartsburg said. "[Monday against the Rangers], they played pretty well. Tonight, they were even better."

Said Leclerc of scoring his second goal in as many nights: "I don't think that's my role, but I feel a lot more comfortable out there playing with Matt and Marty."

After six games, Leclerc--not Kariya or Selanne--is the Ducks leading scorer with seven points (two goals, five assists).

Leclerc's speed and determination along the right-wing boards forced New York defenseman Roman Hamrlik to haul him down with 50 seconds left in the second period, setting the stage for Selanne's game-winner.

The Ducks moved the puck around as the seconds ticked down, Kariya finding Selanne alone in the left faceoff circle. Somebody shouted, "Shoot," so Selanne unleashed a slap shot past Vanbiesbrouck, who was screened by teammate Kenny Jonsson.

"I knew there was enough time left to shoot," Selanne said. "But when I looked at the clock [after the goal], I said, 'Wow, that was close.' "

Playing their third game in four nights, the Ducks survived as well as could be expected in the final period to improve their record to 3-2-0-1 and keep the Islanders winless at 0-3-1.

There also were no repeats of the sloppy plays in front of goalie Guy Hebert that lead to Islander goals by Mark Parrish, who scored twice, and Oleg Kvasha.

The Ducks left Parrish uncovered twice in front of their net. It wouldn't have been a problem, but Dan Bylsma and Ruslan Salei each misplayed pucks and they wound up on Parrish's stick.

His second goal enabled the Islanders to pull into a 3-3 tie with 3:05 left in the second period. Selanne then put the Ducks ahead to stay with his power-play goal with 1.4 seconds left, however.

Earlier, the Ducks lost track of Kvasha skating out of the corner to Hebert's right. Kvasha moved in on Hebert and sneaked a quick shot between his legs to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead with 3:46 left in the first period.

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