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Penguins Penguins Report: 1/11/02

Friday, January 11, 2002

By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

LOOKING AHEAD

Penguins vs. St. Louis Blues, 1:08 p.m. tomorrow, Mellon Arena. TV, radio:WTAE; WWSW-FM (94.5), WBGG-AM (970).

NOTEBOOK

The Penguins scratched C Mario Lemieux (hip), LW Martin Straka (leg), C Wayne Primeau (knee), RW Aleksey Morozov (shoulder) and LW Kevin Stevens for their game in Buffalo last night. Primeau, whose left knee was injured during the Penguins' 2-0 loss in Chicago Sunday, underwent reconstructive surgery yesterday and will miss the rest of the season. Primeau was one of the Penguins' top faceoff men, controlling 63 percent of his draws, and finished the season with three goals and seven assists in 33 games. The Sabres played without LW Slava Kozlov (Achilles tendon), RW Maxim Afinogenov (flu) and D Rhett Warrener (wrist).

Lemieux, who sat out his 24th game in a row last night, confirmed yesterday that he will be in the lineup for the Blues game tomorrow. His mere presence should give the Penguins an enormous psychological boost, but his practical impact will be determined, in large part, by who he has for linemates, and how well they work together. That decision, Coach Rick Kehoe said, will not be made until today. "I don't know who he's going to play with until I talk to him," said Kehoe, who cited speed, puckhandling ability and the ability to read off Lemieux as critical qualities for any prospective linemate. Stephane Richer figures to get serious consideration for one of those spots. Regardless of what Lemieux is able to contribute at even-strength, Kehoe believes he will have a positive effect on the Penguins' power play, the NHL's least-productive. "His presence out there, [the penalty-killers] are going to have to key on him at all times," Kehoe said. "It has to open up something."

Kehoe made yesterday's morning skate optional, but Stevens was the only player who didn't participate. "It's good," Kehoe said. "We have a lot of young guys, and that means they want to get on the ice."

Johan Hedberg came to prominence during the Penguins' playoff run last April and May, and outplayed two of the league's premier goalies, Washington's Olaf Kolzig and Dominik Hasek of Buffalo, during the first two rounds. But while Hedberg admittedly enjoys returning to HSBC Arena -- "Every time I think about this place, I get a feeling [that harkens] back to the playoffs. Which is a good feeling" -- he said he doesn't regard the second-round series against the Sabres as a personal triumph over Hasek, considered by many the finest goalie in the world. "I actually haven't spent one thought on that," Hedberg said. "Sometimes, I almost forget that he was playing here."

D Darius Kasparaitis produced one of the most dramatic goals in Penguins history when he beat Hasek in overtime of Game 7 of their playoff series last May 10, and still pops a tape of it into his VCR occasionally. "Sometimes I look at it, and it makes me feel good," he said. While Kasparaitis has had several other high points during his career -- such as the 1993 playoffs, when he played a key role as his New York Islanders upset the Penguins, and the 1992 Olympics, when he won a gold medal as a member of the Unified Team -- scoring against the Sabres always will be a special memory because that isn't part of his repertoire. "It's a big goal, especially coming from me," he said. "Nobody expects me to score, and I did it."

Penguins D Ian Moran, who returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing a month because of a broken foot, said that, aside from some minor swelling -- "nothing so bad that you can't deal with it" -- the injury is not causing him any significant problems. Not directly, anyway, although complications rooted in the extended layoff have affected his game somewhat. "It's more [a matter of] timing, as opposed to dealing with pain," he said.

Difficult as the Penguins' season has been, their Wilkes-Barre/Scranton affiliate in the American Hockey League has gone through one that's considerably tougher. And the strain is starting to show. After a 2-0 loss to Norfolk Wednesday dropped the Baby Penguins' record to 7-24-8-3, RW Eric Meloche, one of the team's alternate captains, wondered aloud about the character of some co-workers. "I question the heart of this team," Meloche told the Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader. "With each game we lose, the rut gets deeper. More and more, it seems like we don't mind losing. Last year, we gave it our all in every game. This year, it's like, 'Oh well, we lost again.' "

Although the NHL's Olympic break won't begin for another month, players around the league have been commenting on its impact since fall. Sabres D Jason Woolley pointed out that the league's compressed schedule has cut down on practice time -- both teams made yesterday's game-day skate optional so players could conserve energy -- and that teams still are adapting. "It's been such a crazy schedule," Woolley said. "I don't think anybody knew what we were getting into. But now that we're in it, we just have to try to keep moving forward."

MINOR-LEAGUE REPORT
WEDNESDAY'S RESULTS

WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON (7-24-8-3) lost, 2-0, at Norfolk. G Sebastien Caron stopped 33 of 34 shots.

WHEELING (19-16-1) lost, 3-0, at Cincinnati. G Tyler MacKay stopped 33 of 36 shots.

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