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Penguins Penguins hammer Sabres

Sunday, October 27, 2002

By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

This wasn't the first time that Wayne Primeau deflected a point shot past an opposing goalie.

Or that Alexandre Daigle got his stick blade on a puck as it sailed past at waist level, and steered it into the net.

Right winger Shean Donovan moves around Sabres defenseman Jason Woolley to get a shot off against Martin Biron last night at Mellon Arena. (John Heller, Post-Gazette)


Daigle ends drought in unusual fashion

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Or that Michal Rozsival hammered in a slap shot from above the faceoff circle.

It just was the first time any of them had done it this season.

And, presumably, the only time they'll ever do all of that on the same night the Penguins (4-2-2) score four power-play goals, as they did in a 5-2 victory against Buffalo at Mellon Arena last night.

It's no secret that a diversified offense -- before last night, the No. 1 line had accounted for 16 of the Penguins' 23 goals -- and productive special teams are critical to the team's chances of success this winter, and this game underscored that reality.

Mario Lemieux and his linemates, Alexei Kovalev and Aleksey Morozov, didn't exactly take the night off -- Lemieux ran his league-leading points total to 18 by setting up two goals, Kovalev contributed a goal and an assist and Morozov had a goal -- but they had plenty of company on the scoresheet for one of the few times this month.

In addition to getting his first goal, for example, Daigle recorded his second assist of the season. So did Ville Nieminen. And Janne Laukkanen and Vladimir Vujtek set up goals for first time.

"It's important for everybody else to chip in," Rozsival said "That's definitely something positive to see."

So is the output of the Penguins' power play since it sputtered through the first two games of the season. After going 1 for 16 on their power play, the Penguins have been on a 12-for-35 tear that is a direct by-product of the aggressive approach the Penguins have been taking.

"We've started gambling a little more," Kovalev said. "We've started having one of the [point men] ... go to the net as a fourth guy. We've created a lot of traffic in front of the net, and we're taking the puck to the net, which is the most important."

Last night, the power play generated the Penguins' first four goals -- the first time they've scored that many with a man-advantage since a 9-3 victory against the New York Islanders Dec. 30, 1999 -- and seemed poised to make a run at the franchise record of six before finishing 4 for 6.

An impressive showing, to be sure, though well off the franchise record of six set against Toronto Dec. 12, 1986, and duplicated Dec. 5, 1991, against San Jose and Dec. 23, 1991, the Islanders.

After the game, Sabres Coach Lindy Ruff said flatly that "we got smoked," and that his team had been aware of the perils of giving the Penguins too many opportunities with the extra man.

"We know they have tremendous talent up front," he said. "I thought we had some very undisciplined penalties. We definitely crossed the line of where we want to be."

That line was a bit blurry early in the game, for while the first goal of the game came during a Penguins power play, it was the Sabres who scored it. Adam Mair punched in a loose puck at 8:24 of the opening period after goalie Johan Hedberg had stopped his first shot.

Primeau, though, countered for the Penguins 15 seconds later by tipping a Laukkanen shot past Sabres goalie Martin Biron for his first goal in nine games, a streak dating to Jan. 5.

Lemieux did not get a point on that goal, which is noteworthy because he had scored or set up each of the Penguins' nine power-play scores in their first seven games.

Daigle then put the Penguins in front to stay at 16:23 when, with Sabres defenseman Rhett Warrener serving a minor for tripping Primeau, he tipped a Dick Tarnstrom shot out of the air while cruising across the slot. That goal was his first in 21 games, since he played for the New York Rangers March 3, 2000.

"I've had some good chances the last four or five games," Daigle said. "I was getting frustrated out there. I thought I was doing the right things, but it wasn't going in."

Morozov expanded the Penguins' comfort zone at 5:30 of the second, taking a feed from Lemieux behind the net and crossing the goal line near the left post before flipping a high shot into the far side of the net.

Rozsival swelled their advantage to 4-1 by pounding the puck by Biron from above the right circle at 12:08.

"It's definitely a good feeling to get the first one behind me," he said.

And while Jochen Hecht revived the Sabres briefly by sweeping in a backhander from the front lip of the crease at 13:04 -- during a power play, fittingly enough -- Kovalev snuffed any comeback hopes Buffalo had by dancing past Warrener and burying the puck behind Biron from the left hash 43 seconds into the final period.

That was redemption for a chance Kovalev squandered late in the second -- he failed to get off a shot after Lemieux found him behind the Sabres' defense -- as well as the Penguins' only even-strength goal of the game.

It also extended Kovalev's goal-scoring streak to five games, tying Martin St. Louis of Tampa Bay for the longest in the NHL this season. Not that Kovalev is distressed by the idea that he and his linemates are counted on to be the Penguins' primary source of offense.

"We don't really care if the other guys are going to score or not," he said. "We play as a team and whoever get the goals, it's good."


Dave Molinari can be reached at 412-263-1144.

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