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Penguins Penguins Report: 12/03/01

Monday, December 03, 2001

Compiled by Dave Molinari

LOOKING AHEAD

Penguins vs. Maple Leafs, 7:38 p.m. tomorrow, Air Canada Centre, Toronto. TV, radio: Fox Sports Net; WWSW-FM (94.5), WBGG-AM (970).

NOTEBOOK

The Penguins had yesterday off, with nothing on their itinerary except a four-hour flight from Phoenix to Toronto. That agenda had been set long before so many players and staff members were beaten up by the flu-like ailment that ripped through the team late last week, but having another day to rest and recover figures to be a positive thing. "It will turn out to be a good deal for us," Coach Rick Kehoe said. "Have that travel day, then get back at it [today]."

While LW Dan LaCouture's hands didn't give him any trouble during the Penguins' 5-2 loss in Phoenix Saturday night -- he had a slick deflection for his second goal of the season -- the broken big toe on his right foot was a little distracting on occasion. "It was just a funny feeling," LaCouture said. "I'd be skating, and feel the thing dangling there. It's not the best feeling to have. But I taped it up, and when you get going in the game, get the adrenaline going, I don't think about it. One time in the first period, I slid into the boards. My foot hardly even hit the boards and it felt like, if my [toe] was starting to heal, it broke again."

D Darius Kasparaitis was one of the few Penguins who never displayed symptoms of the illness that felled so many of his teammates late last week, and he didn't exhibit much of a bedside manner while discussing what they went through. "I was sick of watching guys getting sick," Kasparaitis said, laughing.

Rookie C Kris Beech doesn't have a reputation for dirty play and insists the blow he delivered to Coyotes C Trevor Letowski Saturday was not intended to injure him. Beech hit Letowski from behind, sending Letowski's head into the boards and opening a seven-stitch cut by his left eye at 16:34 of the opening period. "I didn't even put my stick very high," Beech said. "It was right around his midsection. I was just trying to keep him on the boards, and he happened to cut his head on the boards." Beech received a major penalty and game misconduct for the hit, and losing him compounded the personnel problems caused by the Penguins' health problems. "It was unfortunate," Beech said. "Sometimes those calls come at bad times."

The Penguins have been shut out in five of their 13 road games this season and have scored just 20 goals in the other eight. The offense looked reasonably good against the Coyotes, though, especially in light of the circumstances, and the Penguins insist they don't have a mental block about generating goals in away games. "You can't let that kind of stuff got to your head," LW Toby Petersen said. "That just causes more problems for you. Then you start panicking, gripping the stick a little tighter. You have to go out there and do the best you can to forget about all that. Just keep shooting the puck and keep playing hard, and eventually the goals are going to start going in on the road."

The Penguins' 0-for-5 performance on the power play Saturday leaves them 9 for 110 on the season, a league-worst conversion rate of 8.2 percent. And the power plays' miserable showing against the Coyotes was compounded by the two goals Phoenix scored while short-handed. "We just don't play how we're supposed to," C Robert Lang said. "Power plays are for scoring goals, but it seems like, for some reason, we are not able to get it done." The power play has been one of the Penguins' most formidable and reliable weapons for more than a decade -- it converted on 20.3 percent of its chances just last season -- but the mindset the Penguins used to have when they got a man-advantage isn't evident anymore. "When our power play was successful here, we thought we were going to score," LW Kevin Stevens said. "Every time you went out there, you thought you were going to get a goal. If you didn't, it was a surprise."

While there are no must-win games in early December, LaCouture believes that, with losses to San Jose and Phoenix in the first two games of their road trip, the Penguins have a real urgency to beat the Maple Leafs tomorrow night. "We all know in here that we have to win Tuesday," he said. "We have to finish this road trip .500." Even if they're able to defeat the Leafs, the Penguins wouldn't be able to break even on the trip unless they also win in Boston Thursday.

LW Krzysztof Oliwa got off a little easier than most of his teammates when that illness moved through the locker room late last week -- he ended up with just a little mild abdominal discomfort -- and was more than a little grateful. Those kinds of illnesses, Oliwa said, have a tendency to be particularly tough on him, citing a bout of food poisoning which caused him to lose 15 pounds in three days while playing for New Jersey.

Former Penguins D Jim Johnson, now the analyst on Coyotes' radio broadcasts, will again help to coach Team USA at the world junior championships, which begin Dec. 26 in the Czech Republic.

MINOR-LEAGUE REPORT
SATURDAY'S RESULTS

WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON (3-16-4-2) lost, 4-3, to Philadelphia at First Union Arena. RW Tom Kostopoulos scored his 13th goal, LW Tomas Surovy his seventh, D Ross Lupaschuk his fourth. G Sebastien Caron stopped 32 of 36 shots.

WHEELING (9-10-1) lost, 2-1, at Reading. RW Bogdan Rudenko scored his seventh goal. G Tyler MacKay stopped 28 of 30 shots.

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