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Penguins Lemieux misses 4-2 loss; team starts season 0-2

Sunday, October 07, 2001

By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Their season is just two games old, so the Penguins still have plenty of time to work on the finer points of special-teams play.

The Penguins' Krzysztof Oliwa mixes it up with the Ducks' Kevin Sawyer in the first period last night at Mellon Arena. (Peter Diana, Post-Gazette)

Stuff like actually scoring a goal when they get a chance on the power play.

Like not being scored on when they're the ones with the extra man.

Like preventing opposing power plays from capitalizing on chances the way NBA teams convert free throws.

The kind of stuff they haven't been able to figure out yet.

The kind of stuff that's largely responsible for their 0-2 start, including a 4-2 loss to Anaheim at Mellon Arena last night.

They outscored Anaheim, 2-1, at even-strength, but the Mighty Ducks scored on two of six power plays and added another goal during a Penguins power play.

It doesn't take an advanced degree in mathematics to figure out those numbers add up to a loss.

"It's ridiculous," forward Martin Straka said. "We have to do a better job [on special teams]."

The Penguins have had 10 chances with the man-advantage this season and haven't scored on any of them. Rule of thumb: When opponents score more often on your power plays than you do, something's amiss.

"The power play is pathetic," center Robert Lang said. "And our penalty-killing isn't sharp at all."

Perhaps, then, it is time for the Penguins to abandon their five-forward alignment on the No. 1 power-play unit. Maybe they should try five defensemen. Or five goalies.

Of course, it didn't help their power play -- or anything else about their game -- that Mario Lemieux didn't play because of a strained hip muscle.

It probably didn't do anything for Lemieux's blood pressure, either. By the first intermission, when Anaheim had a 3-0 lead -- "We gave them everything in the first period," Coach Ivan Hlinka said -- Lemieux probably was torn between running to the locker room to dress for the final 40 minutes and walking away from the NHL for good.

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One of Lemieux's linemates, Stephane Richer, didn't put in a full night's work, either. He had a terrible start to the game and spent the end of it on the bench. And didn't complain about the decision to sit him.

"If you think that was the best thing for the team, to be benched, it's fine," he said. "We're in a situation where we have to win, and you have to go with your best players."

Finding anyone who fit that description for the Penguins was difficult, especially in the first period. Even so, they got through it with a 10-9 advantage in shots and went on to finish with a 43-30 edge.

They've had outshot the opposition in each of the six periods they've played this season -- the total is 76-40 -- but the only impact that stat has had is on opposing goalies' save percentages.

The game seemed to get off to a promising start for the Penguins -- Krzysztof Oliwa pounded Kevin Sawyer of the Mighty Ducks in a fight at 2:35, and Darius Kasparaitis smeared Oleg Tverdovsky with a huge hit 70 seconds later -- but began to unravel as the middle of the first period approached.

Matt Cullen gave Anaheim a 1-0 lead when he steered a Jeff Friesen pass between the legs of Penguins goalie Johan Hedberg at 7:24 -- 1:19 after Richer was penalized for boarding -- and the Penguins didn't fare any better when they got a chance with the extra man.

Timo Parssinen of the Mighty Ducks was serving a hooking major when Friesen and Cullen conspired on another goal at 9:40. Cullen completed a two-on-one break against Alexei Kovalev by throwing a Friesen pass over Hedberg from the inner edge of the left circle.

That gave Cullen two goals in two minutes, 16 seconds. Not bad for a guy who hadn't had a two-goal game in any of his previous 299 NHL appearances.

The Penguins' deficit swelled to three at 12:53, as Jason York hammered a shot past Hedberg from the right side of the slot while the Mighty Ducks had a two-man advantage stemming from penalties against Milan Kraft and Kovalev.

"We talked before the game about not giving up goals and capitalizing on power plays when we got the opportunity," winger Dan LaCouture said.

Yeah, well, some guys apparently weren't in on that conversation.

"I don't know what we have to change," Hedberg said. "But we need to get a couple of goals early."

After it was 3-0, the Penguins failed to take advantage of two minor penalties against Ducks defenseman Ruslan Salei -- one for interference at 19:16 of the first, the other for cross-checking at 10:19 of the second -- but did manage to get a puck past Anaheim goalie Steve Shields at 12:22 of the second.

Kraft got the goal -- his first of the season and just his team's second in four-plus periods -- when he took a slick cross-ice feed from Kovalev and threw a shot over Shields' glove from inside the right dot. Hedberg got the second assist, his first point in the NHL.

Kraft's goal came on the Penguins' 20th shot of the game. Until he scored, they were shooting 1 for 52 from the field this season.

The Penguins pulled off a successful penalty-kill early in the third period, and it made their second goal possible.

LaCouture stepped out of the penalty box after serving a hooking minor and pulled in a Jan Hrdina pass that had skidded between the Anaheim point men. LaCouture broke in alone on Shields, then snapped a shot that beat him high on the stick side to make it 3-2.

"I knew I had two [Anaheim] guys behind me, but I just started breaking away," he said.

LaCouture's goal was his first since being acquired from Edmonton at the trading deadline in March and rejuvenated the crowd -- "That was the first thing I thought about, to get the fans back into it and give the team some excitement," LaCouture said -- but Anaheim's Marty McInnis put the game out of reach by flipping the puck into an essentially open net at 14:42.

"Three [to nothing] is a lot," Lang said. "But if you make it 3-2 and it goes to 4-2, it's pretty much over."

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