Hoping For Mark of Old

By JOHN DELLAPINA
Original Publication: December 01, 2000

The sight of Mark Messier crumpling to the ice early in Wednesday night's third period sent shudders of fear through the many Rangers fans in the Meadowlands.

The sight of him wiping out onto the seat of his hockey pants caused roars of delight from the many more Devils fans. But it is the next sight of Messier that will be more revealing than either of those moments from the Devils' latest conquest of the Rangers.

Mark Messier Because it is Messier's ability to recover from the bumps and bruises of a hockey season that has inevitably diminished as he has grown older.

While his 10 goals and 26 points in the Rangers' first 25 games should dispel any preseason fears about whether he still had it, we now get a first answer to as germane a question: Even if Messier still has it, for how many games at a time can he still bring it?

Messier hasn't missed a game yet and has not ruled out playing in tomorrow night's match at Toronto. Though he lost all sensation in his left foot upon being struck on the nerve behind the left knee 3:40 into Wednesday night's third period, Messier said some of the feeling had returned by the time he spoke with reporters — standing the whole time — shortly after the final buzzer.

And by the time he left the Meadowlands about half an hour later, Messier told the Rangers' medical staff that he had approximately 90% of the feeling back in his foot — usually a significant sign of minimal damage when a player suffers the condition known as drop foot.

Under Knife: Vladimir Malakhov undergoes reconstructive left ACL surgery this morning at Lenox Hill Hospital, with Rangers orthopedic surgeons Barton Nisonson and Tony Maddalo doing the honors. While there are no guarantees with operations as major as this one, Malakhov should be heartened to know that two of the most recent ACL reconstructions performed by Nisonson and Maddalo were upon Alexei Kovalev and Mike Richter.

As brilliant a skater as ever, Kovalev is off to a fine start this season, with 12 goals and 14 assists in 23 games. Richter, who had his left ACL reconstructed last April, has returned at close to top form this season, winning nine of his last 14 starts while displaying the flexibility and explosiveness for which his legs are renowned.

One thing is for certain: Malakhov won't play in another regular season game for the Rangers this season.

Power Outage: When he took Adam Graves off Mark Messier's line three games ago, Rangers coach Ron Low admitted he was unsure whether the Rangers' power play would function as well without Graves camped in the slot. It hasn't — going 1-for-10 in the last three games while opponents have pressured perimeter players like Brian Leetch, Theo Fleury and Messier.

While it is unlikely that Graves will be returning to Messier's flank at even strength in the immediate future, don't be surprised if they're back together on the power play as soon as tomorrow night.