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|17 января 2004
Igor has left the building - North Jersy Media Group
By TOM GULITTI
EAST RUTHERFORD - Igor Larionov played for Scotty Bowman for seven years in Detroit, so he knows what it's like to deal with a demanding head coach.
The 43-year-old center appeared to be taken by surprise Friday, however, when Pat Burns requested that he leave the ice in the middle of the coach's angry address to the Devils at Continental Arena.
Burns said he did not kick Larionov out of practice, but Larionov must have thought otherwise. He skated off with a smirk on his face, went to the locker room, dressed, and went home. He did not speak to the media before leaving.
"He wasn't paying attention," Burns said matter-of-factly. "I thought I was boring him, so I said, 'If I'm boring you, then get off the ice.' He left. I didn't kick him off. He left on his own."
Burns said Larionov would not play in this afternoon's game against Washington at Continental Arena, but said it was because he wanted to get Mike Rupp back in the lineup.
During happier times, such an incident might be easier to explain away. But during a stretch in which the Devils are struggling - they have two wins in their last nine games (2-5-2) - and captain Scott Stevens remains out for at least another week with a possible head injury, it provides evidence that nerves are frayed.
Larionov has struggled since signing two days before the start of training camp to fill the void created by Joe Nieuwendyk's departure for Toronto. At times, he has seemed unhappy with the Devils' defensive-minded approach.
He has no goals and 10 assists in 34 games, and his assist in Thursday's 3-3 tie with the Rangers was his first point in nine games.
Although the Devils brought in Larionov as a power-play specialist, Burns used him for only one shift during the team's five power plays Thursday and he did not get on the ice during a five-on-three advantage for 1:53 in the second period.
"It's what we expected," Burns said of Larionov's play. "We knew he wasn't going to be in every game. Some games we call on him. Sometimes we don't. Is it more important to maybe see what Michael Rupp can give us or to see what Igor Larionov can give us for next year?"
Somewhere between Madison Square Garden and the Meadowlands, Burns' stated satisfaction with Thursday's tie turned sour. Perhaps it struck him on the bus ride home that the Devils failed to protect two third-period leads.
Shortly after taking the ice Friday, he slammed his stick against the glass in one corner of the rink to call the players over for a meeting. His voice was not clear enough to make out his words from the stands, but the violent manner in which his head jerked as he spoke indicated his message wasn't a happy one.
"He just made sure to let us know what the problem was and the reason why we didn't win instead of tying," goaltender Martin Brodeur said.
Many of the players were taken aback by Burns' mood change. Larionov, the league's oldest player and a three-time Cup winner, apparently was, too.
His teammates were under the impression that Burns told him to leave, but also downplayed the incident.
"There was really nothing to it," Brodeur said. "I don't think you should
read too much into it. It's nothing."
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