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Penguins Petersen's first hat trick gives Kehoe first win as NHL coach

Wednesday, October 17, 2001

By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

There were times during the past two weeks when the Penguins wondered just what it would take to win a game. Way too many times, actually.

Last night, they finally found out.

Toby Petersen is congratulated by the captain and the owner after scoring his third goal of the night. (Peter Diana, Post-Gazette)

For starters, it required a coaching change. A hat trick by a rookie. Three special-teams goals. Oh, and a 37-save effort by goalie Johan Hedberg didn't hurt, either.

All of that -- and much more -- assured that the first night of the Rick Kehoe Era will go down as an unqualified success, because the Penguins beat Ottawa, 5-2, at Mellon Arena to snap a four-game losing streak.

They had gone 0-4 at the start of the season for just the second time in franchise history, and General Manager Craig Patrick gave Kehoe the keys to Coach Ivan Hlinka's office two days ago. The move was well-received, inside and outside the locker room, and nothing that happened last night figures to change that.

Kehoe, meanwhile, certainly had no reason to second-guess his decision to plug Toby Petersen onto Mario Lemieux's right side, given that Petersen responded by turning in his first three-goal game in the NHL. Lemieux had a pretty fair night, too, piling up three assists.

Lemieux has had 139 three-points games in the NHL; this is the first time Petersen has scored three at this level. Or ever seriously considered the possibility.

"You always think about it," he said. "But it's more of a dream than a goal."

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Alexei Kovalev, who is penciled in as Lemieux's right winger when he returns from arthroscopic knee surgery, probably isn't in danger of losing his job, although Lemieux warned that, "it's going to be tough. He's going to have to work his way back. Maybe he was the problem."

Lemieux was kidding, of course. Laughing, too. So were his teammates, who had been somber and subdued so often during the first half of the month.

They were pumped up before the game, and the same when it was over.

"There was definitely some excitement with the new coach," Petersen said. "We wanted to get that first win for him. The bottom line is, we wanted to get it for ourselves, too. You don't want to get off to an 0-5 start; 0-4 is bad enough."

The Penguins responded to their new coach -- and their miserable record -- with a strong, though hardly flawless, two-way effort. They also got the kind of goaltending and special-teams play that had been missing for most of their first four games.

"That's the way our season should be," said defenseman Andrew Ference, who played despite a rib injury. "Forget about what happened [before]. That's how our season is, from now on."

Their second season certainly got off to a good start when Petersen gave them a 1-0 lead 30 seconds after the opening faceoff. He went after his own rebound and knocked a soft backhander between the legs of Senators goalie Patrick Lalime for the Penguins' only first-period goal of the season.

Penguins defenseman Darius Kasparaitis was on the receiving end of an unusual call at 6:38 of the first -- he got a minor for clipping Todd White -- and an even stranger one at 17:07.

Ottawa goalie Patrick Lalime takes a stick to the mask but still makes a save in the third period. (Peter Diana, Post-Gazette)

Ottawa was awarded a penalty shot then after referee Mike Hasenfratz ruled that Kasparaitis had thrown his stick at a shot by Senators defenseman Zdeno Chara.

Because Chara began the evening with six goals in 237 career NHL games, taking such extreme measures to stop his shot seem unwarranted, and televised replays suggested that Kasparaitis actually had done nothing of the sort, that the stick was knocked out of his hands by Shawn McEachern of the Senators.

The officials, though, ruled that Kasparaitis had violated Rule 88(a), which calls for a penalty shot to be awarded "when a player deliberately throws or shoots a stick or any other object at the puck in his defending zone."

The catch, though, is that Rule 88(a) also calls for the player who was fouled to take the penalty shot. Nonetheless, the officials allowed Marian Hossa, a highly skilled forward, to take it.

Hedberg rendered all those details moot, however, by denying Hossa with a stellar right pad save.

Ottawa's Todd White tied the game at 3:59 of the second, but the Penguins reclaimed the lead for good just 32 seconds later.

The go-ahead goal was made possible by a dazzling set-up from Lemieux, who had been held without a point in his first two appearances of the season.

He carried the puck into the Ottawa zone and, when he reached the top of the left circle, cut across the slot and into the right circle. Most of the Senators followed him, and Lemieux slid a cross-ice pass to Petersen, who was left unchecked between the left circle and the crease and stuck a shot under the crossbar.

"Mario set me up perfectly," Petersen said. "If I'd have missed that, I'd have been quite depressed about it."

The Penguins preserved the lead by killing a 17-second five-on-three in the middle of the period, then scored on one of their own a few minutes later.

Kehoe called a timeout when the Penguins ended up with a two-man advantage for 22 seconds at 13:49 and, whether his chalk talk made a difference or not, the Penguins rang up their first power-play goal of the season 11 seconds later.

Robert Lang got it when he took a backhand feed from Lemieux and flipped the puck past Lalime from the right side of the crease at 14:00, and Petersen got another 63 seconds later when his soft shot from the left hash squirted between Lalime's legs to make it 4-1.

"Like Randy Johnson throwing a change-up," Petersen said.

Lang put the punctuation at the end of probably the Penguins' best period of the season -- not that there are many candidates for that distinction -- with a short-handed goal at 18:41. He chased down a loose puck at the Ottawa blue line, then charged toward the net before blowing a shot past Lalime high on the glove side.

"The only thing I was afraid of was that the goalie was going to come out of the net," Lang said. "Luckily, he stayed in and made it easy on me."

The Penguins didn't exactly do that for Hedberg -- he faced 18 shots in the second, 12 more in the third -- but the only other shot that eluded him was a Chris Herperger backhander at 12:54 of the third.

"We had all kind of opportunities and we didn't cash in," Senators Coach Jacques Martin said.

And for one of the few times this season, the Penguins did. Of course, satisfying as the victory was, the Penguins seem to understand that all they really accomplished was to assure that they won't go 0-82.

"This is something really nice, and really needed," Lang said. "We did a lot of good things. Overall, it was a good, strong game, but it's just one game."

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