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|1 октября 2002
Heat's off Tverdovsky
By TOM GULITTI
WEST ORANGE - Pat Burns wasn't proposing a match race. The Devils' coach was just wondering aloud.
How would newcomer Oleg Tverdovsky fare head to head with Scott Niedermayer, who has long been considered the team's best skating defenseman? "He's such a powerful skater," Burns said of Tverdovsky on Monday. "Those [first] four steps that he takes would beat a lot of forwards. Him and Niedermayer would be a great race to watch."
But to Tverdovsky, who came to the Devils with Jeff Friesen in the July trade that sent Petr Sykora to Anaheim, the idea seemed an odd one.
"Why would we race?" he asked.
Perhaps because it's been a long time since Tverdovsky could look around the locker room and see more than a few players of comparable skill. In Anaheim, there was Paul Kariya and not much else.
And in terms of defensive personnel, Tverdovsky, 26, has never been around a team this deep. He has fond memories of a strong group in Phoenix that included Teppo Numminen and Jyrki Lumme, but that was four seasons ago and wasn't close to the Devils' current defensive corps, which also includes Scott Stevens, Brian Rafalski, Colin White, and Ken Daneyko.
"He's always been the guy that's supposed to lead every team," Burns said. "Now, he doesn't have to do that. He doesn't have to be the number one guy. You've got Niedermayer. You've got Rafalski. You've got Stevens. For him right now, he's coming in and saying, 'Hey, I'm going to be part of six to eight pretty good defensemen.' So, it's not a question of him having to be the guy that goes through guys all the time."
With the Mighty Ducks, Tverdovsky was clearly the No. 1 defenseman. With the Devils, he'll probably play in the third pairing with Daneyko at even strength, which will take off some of the pressure.
At the same time, however, the Devils will still be counting on Tverdovsky to produce on their power play, which has always been his strength because of his hard, low shot from the point and his passing ability.
"It's good because playing in Anaheim I had to do a lot more because we didn't have such a group of good players," said Tverdovsky, who had six goals and 26 assists in 73 games last season. "Most of the players were very young and just starting their careers and making a lot of mistakes. It's hard because you have to do so much more work, and by the time you are done, you don't have anything left to create offense.
"Here, everybody is doing their jobs and you don't have to worry about anything else. You just do what you have to do and you don't have to do somebody else's job."
Burns also believes that having a reliable defensive defenseman backing Tverdovsky should allow him to do what he does best, which is moving the puck quickly and using his speed to jump into the rush and create offense. The Devils have similar balance in their other two defensive pairings: Stevens with Rafalski, and White with Niedermayer.
"I've played with Kenny Daneyko in most of the games and I played with Scott Stevens the last game and both are very solid defensemen," Tverdovsky said. "It just makes it much easier when I know that they'll always do a really great job in the corners of getting the puck and I only have to take care of my part of the ice and do what I do.
"I don't have to worry about them making weak plays because they're
so good at breaking up plays and getting the puck. It's enjoyable. I save
a lot of energy."
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