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Penguins Penguins Report, 3/07/03

Friday, March 07, 2003

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

LOOKING AHEAD

Ottawa Senators vs. Penguins, 7:38 p.m. tomorrow, Mellon Arena. TV, radio: Fox Sports Net; WWSW-FM (94.5); WBGG-AM (970).

NOTEBOOK

The Penguins scratched LW Mikael Samuelsson (knee), LW Jan Hrdina (groin), RW Aleksey Morozov (wrist), D Michal Rozsival (hand), D Joel Bouchard (jaw) and D Josef Melichar (shoulder). Samuelsson learned yesterday he will miss seven to 10 days because of a sprained ligament in his knee as the result of a low hit Tuesday by Coyotes D Drake Berehowsky. His absence allowed D Hans Jonsson back into the lineup after being a healthy scratch for two games and pushed Ian Moran from defense to right wing. The Hurricanes scratched C Rod Brind'Amour (hand), LW Erik Cole (leg), LW Jaroslav Svoboda (shoulder), LW Jan Hlavac (hand), RW Pavel Brendl (knee), RW Jesse Boulerice (concussion), RW Jeff Heerema (wrist) and D Niclas Wallin (flu).

Penguins Coach Rick Kehoe said before the game that he is not allowing any discussion of his job security to distract him: "All I'm trying to do right now is figure out how to get our team to score some goals." Owner Mario Lemieux and GM Craig Patrick said Tuesday all personnel will be re-evaluated after the season, including coaches and players. Both dismissed such procedure as being routine, and Kehoe echoed that: "Every year, it's always been the same here. Even when we were winning [Stanley] Cups, when the season was over, we evaluated everything." Kehoe, in his 28th season with the organization, has another year on his contract. The deals of assistants Randy Hillier and Joe Mullen expire after this season.

Samuelsson's injury was the latest blow to his effort to impress the Penguins since they acquired him Feb. 10 from the Rangers as part of the Alexei Kovalev trade. He had two goals in his first four games -- both set up by Lemieux -- but failed to produce a point in the next eight. "I'm not really pleased, to be honest with you," Samuelsson said. "I can do much better than what I've done. I see myself as a player who can play on the top two lines, and I can score in this league. I think I would be stupid not to think that. Maybe it's going to take some time to adjust on and off the ice. But right now, it's tough, big-time tough."

G Sebastien Caron had no trouble recalling his only previous meeting with the Hurricanes, a 26-save shutout in a 2-0 victory Jan. 15 in Raleigh, N.C. "A great memory for me," he said. "I'll never forget it." But Caron does have difficulty, as do most NHL personnel, explaining how Carolina has fallen so far so fast. The Hurricanes were Stanley Cup finalists last spring but are among the Eastern Conference's worst teams. "They're not a bad team at all. There are still some great players over there," Caron said. "I don't know what happened to them. Maybe things just haven't worked out for them."

Hurricanes C Ron Francis was greeted with a warm ovation by the crowd of 14,812, a rarity for any professional athlete who has left Pittsburgh.

In the past five games, it has been easy for Penguins LW Randy Robitaille to get the idea he is no favorite of the coaching staff. He was benched for an entire period Feb. 27 in Nashville, Tenn. He was scratched Sunday in Dallas. He was supposed to be scratched Tuesday but played because of another player's injury and, even then, did not leave the bench in the first period. "I can't control those things," Robitaille said. "I used to kill myself over stuff like this, but not anymore. I provide a service, and they decide if they want it." Robitaille, 27, is playing on a one-year contract worth $820,000. If the Penguins elect to give him a qualifying offer and the mandatory 10 percent raise this summer, he will be a restricted free agent and is highly likely to return. If they choose not to do so, he can hit the open market.

Less than a month remains in the season, and G Johan Hedberg continues to keep his word that he will not shatter a stick in anger as he so often did in his first year-plus with the Penguins after allowing a goal of questionable quality. He appeared close to doing so once Tuesday in the loss to the Coyotes, raising his stick in visible anger, but relented. "I won't take my aggression out on my equipment anymore," he said. "But that doesn't mean I'm not angry. It still burns so much when the puck goes in."

Although the Penguins have plummeted in the standings in the past month, their ticket sales for the stretch are strong. The home game Saturday against the Senators has 4,000 tickets remaining, but each of the following three has 1,500 or fewer.

MINOR-LEAGUE REPORT

Wednesday's results

WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON (28-26-5-5) did not play.

WHEELING (23-32-3) did not play.

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