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Penguins Penguins Report: 1/4/02

Friday, January 04, 2002

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

LOOKING AHEAD

Penguins vs. New York Rangers, 3:08 p.m. tomorrow, Mellon Arena. TV, radio: Channel 4; WWSW-FM (94.5), WBGG-AM (970).

NOTEBOOK

The Penguins scratched C Mario Lemieux (hip), LW Martin Straka (leg), D Ian Moran (foot) and LW Kevin Stevens for their game on Long Island last night. Stevens, who has one goal and four assists in 29 appearances this season, has not dressed for 10 of the past 17 games. The New York Islanders played without D Roman Hamrlik (knee), D Radek Martinek (knee), D Kevin Haller (groin) and C Claude Lapointe (virus).

D Darius Kasparaitis told the Web site Faceoff.com he expects to be traded by the Penguins "any day now," but GM Craig Patrick flatly dismissed that last night: "I've had no discussions with anybody about trading him. I don't know why he would say that." The Islanders have made no secret of their desire to reacquire Kasparaitis, who began his NHL career with them in 1992. Kasparaitis, in turn, has made it clear Long Island would be a preferred destination should he be dealt. "If I'm traded, I'd be very happy to be here," he said yesterday. "I consider Long Island my home. It was my first team, and I have a lot of good memories here. I love the fans here. ... I was always happy to be here." Kasparaitis can become an unrestricted free agent in July, which is why he believes the Penguins will trade him. "It's going to be hard to be signed, and I don't think they want to do that," he said. "That's why I think I have to leave Pittsburgh ... I don't think about being traded, but I know it's coming. There's been a lot of talk."

RW Billy Tibbetts, demoted Tuesday by the Penguins to their AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, did not accompany the team on its five-game road trip which opens tonight in Milwaukee. He had a magnetic resonance imaging test on his injured left hamstring Wednesday and said yesterday he will spend the next two to three weeks resting to allow it to heal. Tibbetts said the injury, the result of a spear in the Calder Cup final this past spring, hindered his skating in his final month with the Penguins. "It was something that didn't get better," he told reporters in Wilkes-Barre. "It settled in and, right now, it's something that's giving me a lot of pain and discomfort." Tibbetts said he endured the pain while with the Penguins because he wanted to stay in the NHL and added that he would have continued playing had another team claimed him off waivers earlier in the week. But he made it clear he would not be willing to play hurt if sent to the minor leagues. Glenn Patrick, coach of the Baby Penguins, had expected Tibbetts to accompany the team on its road trip.

The Penguins were assessed 19 penalty minutes during the first period last night -- nine of which obliged them to play short-handed -- and that gave Coach Rick Kehoe plenty of opportunities to implement his plan to get more forwards involved in the penalty-killing. No fewer than eight centers and wingers -- Robert Lang, Dan LaCouture, Jan Hrdina, Toby Petersen, Stephane Richer, Kris Beech, Wayne Primeau and Tom Kostopoulos -- got on the ice while the Penguins were down a man during those 20 minutes.

The Penguins were on a 1-6-2 skid before the game, and are keenly aware that the gap separating them from the Eastern Conference playoff field has been expanding lately. Nonetheless, they insist that their morale hasn't suffered too much so far. "I think it's pretty good, actually," Lang said. "Considering it's been pretty much an uphill battle all season long, the guys are holding up good. The whole team spirit is still really good. There's definitely not a quitting attitude, or anything like that." How long their intangibles will stay intact if the Penguins don't begin to accumulate points with regularity is hard to say, but they have to realize that the alternative isn't very appealing. "If we don't stay together as a team," Kehoe said, "we're going to be in a lot of trouble."

Although D Andrew Ference is in just his first full season in the NHL, he brings a veteran's perspective to many issues, one being how a positive mindset would be a major asset in the Penguins' bid to get back into playoff contention. "Our team has to make the turnaround, to the point of having confidence," he said. "And be going into games expecting [to earn] points, not just hoping for them." Ference, like most of his teammates, insists that the Penguins' record does not reflect their talent level. He also understands that simply talking about being a playoff-caliber team isn't the same as performing like one. "Everybody has probably said a hundred times that we're capable of doing better," Ference said. "That we can do better. But we're beyond that point. Halfway through the season, you have to start doing it, instead of just talking about it."

Islanders GM Mike Milbury suggested to New York area reporters earlier this week that NHL officials might have a "vendetta" against his team because of comments made by Coach Peter Laviolette and G Chris Osgood after an overtime loss in New Jersey Dec. 12. Laviolette was fined $200 for chasing referees Blaine Angus and Dan Marouelli after that game to express his displeasure with their work. Milbury was quoted in the New York Daily News as saying, "I don't feel paranoid, but I've been left shaking my head far too many times over questionable calls," and by the New York Post as saying, "Enough's enough. They've got us on the mat."

MINOR-LEAGUE REPORT
WEDNESDAY'S RESULTS

WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON (7-21-7-3) did not play. D David Koci, the Penguins' fifth-round pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, has one goal, three assists, a minus-1 rating and 83 penalty minutes in 24 games.

WHEELING (17-15-1) did not play.

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