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Ozolinsh turning his career into a big plus for Ducks - Star-Ledger
BY BRIDGET WENTWORTH
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- A glance down the columns of statistics next to the Mighty Ducks' names reveals something quite interesting, at first glance, about Anaheim defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh.
It's the plus-minus stat, the number that can serve as an indicator of how responsibly someone is playing. If you're well up into the plus range, for example, it can be construed that you are on the ice for goals for your team far more often than you are on the ice for goals against your team. And next to Ozolinsh's name, after 17 games played in the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring, is a plus-8. As the Mighty Ducks get set to play the Devils in Game 4 of the Finals tonight, Ozolinsh's mark in that category is the best of any Anaheim player.
Ozolinsh himself does not think it's a big deal.
"I don't know. I really don't like that plus-minus stat," Ozolinsh said. "I don't really think it shows that a player is playing well defensively. I've been lucky a couple times. I've jumped on the ice and we've scored a goal, and I've jumped off when we were scored on against."
Still, any statistic that seems to show Ozolinsh playing with some measure of accountability is important, because for years, the knock on the 30-year-old defenseman was that he could not care less about his own end of the ice. Blessed with super skills and speed, Ozolinsh has nevertheless knocked around the league since joining the San Jose Sharks for his rookie season in 1992. He established his longest tenure with one team after going to Colorado during the 1995-96 season, and won a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche at the end of that season, his first of five years in Colorado.
But then came a bit of a downward spiral. At the 2000 draft, Colorado traded him to Carolina, where he struggled on the blue line -- he was minus-25 for the 2000-01 season -- and did not help the Hurricanes much in six postseason games. Then it was on to Florida for less than a year, because the Panthers traded Ozolinsh to Anaheim this past January after he played 51 games, picked up 26 points and was minus-16.
It was with the Mighty Ducks that Ozolinsh began to experience a renaissance. Coach Mike Babcock told Ozolinsh it was fine to go hard offensively. After all, this was a player who had picked up 554 points in 743 career regular-season games, and 82 points in 113 playoff games.
"It's about making decisions and doing things at the right time," Babcock said. "The other thing about it is, you don't get anywhere in life in the parking lot if you've got one foot on the gas and one on the brake. We want to keep our foot on the long skinny one."
The difference in Ozolinsh now, as Babcock sees it, is a more team-oriented approach to his game. Ozolinsh, with Babcock pushing him, recognizes his responsibilities as a veteran defenseman who must help out in all areas of the ice, not just the offensive zone.
"I think there are two times in your career: an individual time and a team time," Babcock said. "The individual time is when you're real young and you're trying to find your niche in the league, and the team time is when you accomplish things and all you want to do is to win.
"I have been impressed how proud and professional he is. Anything I've asked him to do, he's done. He's an elite player."
Adam Oates never played with Ozolinsh until this season. From afar, Oates always had his opinions of Ozolinsh, which have been refined since he became his teammate. Situations such as the one Ozolinsh faced in the third period of Anaheim's 3-2 overtime victory over the Devils in Game 3 support Oates' new view. During an Anaheim power play, Ozolinsh raced back to his own zone to thwart Pascal Rheaume on a short-handed breakaway. As Rheaume readied a shot on Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Ozolinsh caught up to him, dived and knocked the puck away with a sweep of his stick.
"The only difference playing with him here is he plays a lot more defense
than I thought he did," Oates said. "He's a big guy back there. I think
his game has changed a little bit over the years, and he's solid on the
blue line for us."
2 февраля. Ozolinsh skips skills event - Miami
2 февраля. Ozolinsh skips skills event - Miami Herald