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Penguins Hedberg bothered by bad, ugly goals

Monday, October 15, 2001

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- To Johan Hedberg, it's redundant to describe any goal against him as bad.

Johan Hedberg, who had 30 saves yesterday, kicks out his right pad to stop a shot by the Sabres' Stu Barnes. (Don Heupel, Associated Press)

"You never want to let up goals. Never. Doesn't matter how they happen. They're all bad."

To be sure, no one could argue that point yesterday because, by anyone's definition, every goal Hedberg and the Penguins allowed in their 4-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres was bad. Or, as Sabres Coach Lindy Ruff described them, "ugly."

The bad and the ugly ...

The Penguins had killed off four Buffalo power plays in the first period, then were penalized a fifth time at 19:04, when Hedberg was whistled for delay of game for knocking his net off its moorings. That led to left winger Miroslav Satan's sharp redirection goal 29 seconds later.

Hedberg was incensed.

"There's one of their guys in the crease, he bumps me back into my own net, and the net comes off. And I get called for delay."

The Penguins rebounded with a strong second period, and that included Hedberg, who stopped 22 of 23 shots through 40 minutes and appeared to be regaining the form he showed in the Stanley Cup playoffs this past spring.

"I felt good out there. ... Then came the third period."

At 2:33, Buffalo left winger Slava Kozlov intercepted Penguins defenseman Michal Rozsival's soft pass behind the net. Facing the glass, he blindly attempted to backhand the puck into the slot, but it instead struck the back of Hedberg's right arm and plopped into the net.

"From nowhere," Hedberg said. "He finds a hole from the back of the net. That shouldn't happen. I don't have a clue how it happened."

The Penguins cut Buffalo's lead to 2-1 just 45 seconds later on left winger Martin Straka's goal, and they continued to press Sabres goaltender Martin Biron for much of the next 10 minutes. But their momentum evaporated at 13:40.

Hedberg had come out of the net to cut off a hard dump-in by the Sabres, but the puck struck a divot in the boards and ricocheted into the right circle. Buffalo defenseman James Patrick slapped it into the net before Hedberg could recover.

It wasn't Hedberg's fault, but neither was it pretty.

"Seriously, I don't know what I should do differently in that situation," Hedberg said. "The puck hits the boards, takes a weird bounce, and it's in the goal."

Finally, at 18:01, Kozlov scored again from behind the goal line, this time flicking a backhand pass which struck the blade of Penguins defenseman Ian Moran's stick blade and slipped between Hedberg's legs.

"It changed directions and went right through me," Hedberg said. "That's the way it's been. You never see things like that happening for us, bounces or tips like that. We're just having so much bad luck right now."

No one is taking the brunt of that harder than Hedberg.

Coach Ivan Hlinka had criticized Hedberg's work in the Penguins' first two games, pointing specifically to "easy" goals that had been allowed. He then benched him in favor of Jean-Sebastien Aubin for the third game, but Aubin kept alive the bad-goal trend by allowing a bank shot by New York Islanders center Michael Peca.

The bank was open for business again yesterday.

It didn't matter to Hedberg that he had been sharp before Kozlov's goal. Or that his teammates again had given him next to nothing for offensive support. Or that he finished with 30 saves.

"I don't know what's going on. I just don't know."

That confusion is in stark contrast to the exhilaration he experienced in his previous visit to this building. That came May 10, when he and the Penguins eliminated the Sabres from the second round of playoffs in Game 7. Hedberg had beaten the great Dominik Hasek, and the hockey world was in his hand.

Yesterday, seated at the same locker stall, he was shaking his head, wondering how to shake out of the first slump of his brief NHL career. He is 0-3 with a 3.69 goals-against average and .851 save percentage, hardly what the Penguins expected when they named him their starter and signed him to a three-year contract this summer.

"Everybody's working. Everybody's trying. Sometimes, it just feels like you've got a curse on you. I don't want to let up bad goals. I hate letting up bad goals."

Bad goals?

"I don't like to let up any goals. It's freaking frustrating."

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