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Penguins Penguins Report: 4/2/03

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer


Matchup: Penguins vs. Carolina Hurricanes, 7:38 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.

TV, radio: Fox Sports Net; WWSW-FM (94.5), WBGG-AM (970).

Probable goaltenders: Sebastien Caron for Penguins. Kevin Weekes for Hurricanes.

Penguins: Are 1-2 against Carolina, including 4-0 loss March 6 at Mellon Arena. ... Will tie franchise record for longest single-season winless streak on home ice -- 11 games, set Oct. 8-Nov. 9, 1983 -- unless they beat Carolina. ... Are guaranteed to finish with fewest points in a full season since earning 53 in 1984-85.

Hurricanes: Have gone 0-6-2 in past eight games after winning previous four. ... Ron Francis, long one of NHL's top two-way centers, has worst plus-minus rating of any Carolina forward, minus-22. ... Have allowed eight short-handed goals on road, tying for most in league.

Hidden stat: Former Penguins checking-line C Tyler Wright has two hat tricks this season, one more than entire Penguins team.


C Mario Lemieux, D Michal Rozsival (thumb) and C Brian Holzinger (knee) did not participate in the Penguins' hour-long practice at Mellon Arena yesterday. Lemieux, who watched virtually the entire workout from the runway leading to the Penguins' locker room, should be in the lineup tonight when Carolina visits the Penguins, while Rozsival is almost certain to sit out and Holzinger is a lock to miss the game. Holzinger, whose knee was injured in the Penguins' 3-0 loss Saturday in Philadelphia, is scheduled to have a Magnetic Resonance Imaging examination of his injury today.

The Penguins-Hurricanes game could go a long way toward firming up the bottom of the NHL standings. If the Penguins win, Carolina will be locked into last place overall, because the Hurricanes will trail them by four points -- and the first tiebreaker, victories -- with two games remaining. A Carolina victory, conversely, would eliminate any chance of the Penguins finishing higher than 29th in the 30-team league, while raising the possibility that possession of last place might not be settled until after the Carolina-New York Islanders game Sunday. Whoever finishes last overall will have the best chance of coming out of the draft lottery Monday with the No. 1 choice in the June entry draft.

While executives and scouts from both organizations are keenly aware of the draft implications of the game tonight, that won't qualify as even a secondary concern for most players. They tend to be more concerned with preserving their place on the depth chart than with the slot their club will fill in the draft order. "Whether we pick fifth or 500th, I don't really care," Penguins RW Eric Meloche said. He did allow, however, that his father -- Gilles Meloche, the Penguins' Quebec scout -- is on the list of those cognizant of the impact the outcome could have.

The Penguins will present their annual individual awards before the game tonight, but team officials expect the opening faceoff to be delayed less than five minutes. Lemieux, who has an 89-44 edge over No. 2 scorer Martin Straka, is the early favorite to be honored as the team's top point-producer.

D Dan Focht has been a pleasant surprise for the Penguins since they got him from Phoenix in the Jan Hrdina deal March 11, playing fairly well in his own end and not looking out of place in the offensive zone. While Focht's size -- 6 feet 6, 234 pounds -- likely slowed his development, a series of medical problems impeded him, too. "I went through a lot of injuries, especially my first three years," Focht said. "Up until two years ago, I really didn't get a chance because of that." Although he has gotten some power-play time lately, Focht understands that good defensive work is the key to his future and, as his career progresses, projects himself into a niche that emphasizes his assets. "I see myself as maybe a [No.] 3 or [No.] 4 guy who's out there on a consistent basis and playing well defensively," he said. "That's what's normally asked of a big guy: Play well defensively, bang some bodies and make sure no one's standing in front of the net."

Carolina's goalies, Kevin Weekes and Arturs Irbe, have injured right hands. Weekes is scheduled to have surgery on his after the season, while Irbe, who has spent part of this season in the American Hockey League, has a fractured bone.

Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford, a former Penguins goalie, had to go $4 million over budget last summer when owner Peter Karmanos told him to keep at least the nucleus of the team that made it to the Stanley Cup final intact. Clearly, Karmanos didn't get much of a return on his investment this season. Still, he seems to share the Penguins' hard-line perspective on the collective bargaining agreement that will replace the one expiring Sept. 15, 2004, and is wary of committing to too many long-term contracts when the fiscal future of the sport is uncertain. "I want to make sure if there's a significant change in the CBA that we haven't tied our hands going forward," Karmanos told the News and Observer. "We have to be pretty careful."

Carolina LW Jan Hlavac, who has missed 14 games because of a broken finger, is a candidate to return to the lineup this evening. Hlavac has nine goals and 15 assists in 52 games with the Hurricanes since being acquired from Vancouver.


WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON (33-32-6-5) did not play.

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