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Following Career Low, He Has Sights Set High

August 22, 2003|MIKE BRESNAHAN | Times Staff Writer

Some things haven't changed for left wing Luc Robitaille, back for a third tour with the Kings.

He still wears No. 20. He still owns the Holmby Hills home he bought in 1997. He still has a strong following of fans.

And yet there are changes.

He is now 37. His name is on the Stanley Cup after helping Detroit win it two years ago. His scoring ability waned last season, falling to a career-low 11 goals amid third-line duties.

The highest-scoring left wing in NHL history (631 goals), Robitaille signed a one-year deal with the Kings for $1.1 million, about one-fourth what he made last year. He talked recently about last season's shortcomings in Detroit, this season's possibilities in L.A., and the infamous "Stickgate" incident in Montreal that marked the 1993 Stanley Cup finals.

Question: There were five or six future Hall of Famers on your team last season, yet the Red Wings were swept by the Mighty Ducks in the first round. What happened there?

Answer: We really did hit a hot goaltender. Who thought the Ducks would go all the way to the finals? My God, they almost won it all. Every game we played we felt we outplayed them, we felt we should have won. That's how good [Jean-Sebastien Giguere] was. I remember the first game we outshot them [by a ratio of] 2 to 1 and lost in double overtime. Second game, same thing. Next thing you know, we lost Game 4. There were a few things we could have changed here and there, but it really came down to the goaltending.

Q: Last season you dropped to 11 goals after scoring 30 two seasons ago on the way to the Stanley Cup. How tough was it for you personally?

A: It was really hard. My role was really diminished last year, even in the playoffs. When I went there, even though I wasn't playing as much as with Scotty [Bowman], he knew how to use me. Last year, it was a different situation. That's the way it goes. As a player, you accept it if you win, because I try to be the best team player I can be. But we didn't win it and it didn't work out. So if you ask me, was it disappointing? Yeah, it was probably the most disappointing season of my career, especially the way it ended.

Q: You mentioned the tight playoff games against the Ducks. Does the game need to be opened up more? Are people tired of 2-1 and 1-0 scores?

A: To me, the biggest mistake ever made was when they built 25, 26 new buildings, they could have made them eight feet wider in the ice surface. That's all they needed, four feet on each side. It would be a whole different game.

The goalies are better, but their equipment is bigger too. There's a lot of shots that used to go in. There's no way they go in today. Defensemen aren't necessarily better players, but they're harder to play against. When I started in the league, your bottom three defensemen were big, sluggish guys who couldn't move. You look at today, they're all guys coming from Europe, young kids that can skate and can hit.

Q: King fans out here haven't forgotten the 1993 trip to the Stanley Cup finals. Can this team get close to that type of playoff run?

A: In 1993, we played Jari Kurri at center and Gretz [Wayne Gretzky] was at center. That really made a big difference. To really win you've got to have a hot goaltender, some good defensemen and you want to have good wingers, but if your centers are really good they carry the game....

If you ask me if we have a shot, I'd say yes. I think Jason Allison is one of the best players in the league when he's healthy. Anybody in the league knows how good he is. Then we have Jozef Stumpel as a second center. Right then and there you have two centers that can find anybody open on the ice. That's what it comes down to. In the playoffs I believe there's a lot of teams that won't want to play against us just because we have guys like Matty Norstrom and Aaron Miller and Adam Deadmarsh. Obviously our goalie is going to be the big key.

Q: You're referring to Roman Cechmanek, one of the off-season acquisitions made by the Kings. How important is it for him to get off to a solid start?

A: He's been one of the best goalies in the league the last couple of years. I think in the playoffs he's run into one or two bad bounces, just like Curtis Joseph in Detroit. Teams sometimes give up on guys like that. I like the situation he's coming into, because he's got a lot to prove just like I have a lot to prove. I hope we can do it for him.

Q: Do you ever think about what could have happened in '93 if not for Marty McSorley and "Stickgate"?

A: Not really. Even though everybody said that [illegal] stick was the turning point, we still got scored on there, we could have scored in overtime, then we had two more games in overtime here in L.A. that we lost. It wasn't a stick, it was Patrick Roy that beat us. Alone. Literally alone. That's how good he was. I think of two or three posts we hit in those overtimes in L.A. That to me is more the difference than the stick.

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