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Penguins Penguins Report: 10/14/01

Sunday, October 14, 2001

By Dave Molinari and Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writers


Matchup: Penguins vs. Buffalo Sabres, 2:08 p.m. today, HSBC Arena.

TV, radio: Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh; WWSW-FM (94.5).

Probable goaltenders: Johan Hedberg for Penguins, Martin Biron for Sabres.

Penguins: Will be playing on the road for first time after opening season with three consecutive losses at Mellon Arena. ... C Robert Lang had four goals, four assists in four regular-season games against Sabres in 2000-01. ... Have not scored goal in first period this season.

Sabres: Have lost four consecutive regular-season home games to Penguins. ... C Stu Barnes has four goals on nine shots, a success rate of 44.4 percent. ... Power play has converted just two of 21 chances on home ice.

Hidden stat: Penguins outscored Sabres, 6-1, during third period last season.


C Toby Petersen, who was treated for dehydration after practice Friday, and C Robert Lang, who was excused to attend a funeral, did not participate in the workout yesterday at Southpointe. Petersen, who spent several hours in the hospital, will not play in Buffalo today, but Lang was scheduled to join his teammates there last night. The Penguins again devoted a significant portion of practice to their power play, which is 0 for 15 this season. The only significant personnel move involved giving D Michal Rozsival some work on the point of the No. 2 unit; RW Stephane Richer and D Andrew Ference, who have handled those duties so far this season, also practiced there.

Johan Hedberg, whose work in the first two games was publicly criticized by Coach Ivan Hlinka, will start against the Sabres today. Hedberg's confidence has taken a few hits lately, but he's had to deal with adversity before and has developed a strategy for bouncing back from tough times. "I'm not a master at it, but I know I'm better at it than I used to be," he said. "It's kind of a meditation thing. There are a lot of good things that have happened, and you have to feel good about those, bring those feelings up."

The game today will be the first meeting between the Penguins and Sabres since D Darius Kasparaitis ended their second-round playoff series by burying a puck behind Buffalo G Dominik Hasek at 13:01 of overtime in Game 7. Hasek subsequently was traded to Detroit, and it might take the Sabres a while to adjust to his absence. "Hasek was half their team," Kasparaitis said. "It's going to be a big battle for our team, because we're struggling and I don't think they're playing their best hockey. Hopefully, the luck is going to change on our side."

There was a time earlier in Penguins RW Alexei Kovalev's career, when he received regular and harsh criticism for his reluctance to shoot the puck. That hasn't been an issue for the past year or so, however, and certainly isn't this season. The catch is that, even though he has launched a team-high 19 shots -- that projects to 519 over an 82-game season -- Kovalev has yet to score a goal. He had a career-high 44 of those in 2000-01, when he was credited with 307 shots.

The Penguins have played just three games during the first 11 days of this season, which means they have had an inordinate amount of time to dwell on each of their defeats. Even before the opener, they weren't happy with having so much time off during the first half of October, and dropping their first three games only underscored those feelings. "Everybody would agree that it's easier to get in a rhythm, in your game mode, if you're playing every other day," Lang said. "Get that feeling, get the game face on and just get into it. Look at [New] Jersey: They are 0-2 [before facing Montreal last night] and got spanked twice badly. That's really unusual for them. They had [a similar] schedule. It's a little harder than if you play a lot from the beginning." Hlinka agreed. "Sometimes, for your [psyche], if you play a bad game, the best thing is to play the next game and forget everything about the first one," he said. "Win the game, then everything is OK."

The Penguins are concerned about their 0-3 start -- and they have plenty of reason to be -- but they also should be aware that the course for a team's season isn't necessarily charted during the early weeks of play. Witness the 1986-87 season, when the Penguins opened with a franchise-record seven victories in a row. They went on to finish eight games below .500 (30-38-12), settle into fifth place in the Patrick Division and miss the Stanley Cup playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.

C Wayne Primeau, who is recovering from a heel injury, skated for the first 10 minutes or so of practice and D Janne Laukkanen, who is coming off knee surgery, went on the ice after the formal portion of the workout was completed. Primeau and Laukkanen are expected to rejoin the lineup next month.

Sabres G Martin Biron was asked by reporters after practice in Buffalo yesterday about the challenge of facing C Mario Lemieux, and he responded by cautioning against ignoring other members of the Penguins: "You pay special attention to these guys, the All-Stars, the premium players in this league. But history will tell sometimes the unlikely guy will hurt you. Who would have said Kasparaitis would have broken our back last year in the playoffs?"


WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON (0-3-1) lost, 4-3, at Syracuse. LW Martin Sonnenberg scored his second goal, C Shane Endicott and LW Alexandre Mathieu each his first. RW Eric Meloche had two assists. G Robbie Tallas stopped 26 of 30 shots.

WHEELING (0-1) lost, 3-2, at Atlantic City.

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