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Penguins Daigle ends drought in unusual fashion

Sunday, October 27, 2002

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The knock against Alexandre Daigle throughout his star-crossed NHL career has been that he is a perimeter player.

Alexandre Daigle celebrates after scoring his first goal with the Penguins. (John Heller, Post-Gazette)

But, in finally scoring his first goal with the Penguins, he took advantage of a perimeter play by being the only one to charge through the slot.

Unusual, but he'll take it.

"I don't care how I scored," he said, smiling wide after the 5-2 rout of the Buffalo Sabres last night at Mellon Arena. "It's just such a good feeling. I've been working really hard for this, and I knew it was just a matter of time."

It was a long time coming.

Daigle, the No. 1 pick in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, took two years away from hockey before deciding his passion for the game had been rekindled and trying out with the Penguins in September. That meant he hadn't scored in a span of 20 games dating to March 3, 2000, and his brief stint with the New York Rangers.

The drought actually seemed much longer, if only because Daigle's frustration with his failure to score was mounting with each shift.

After showing little in his first three games with the Penguins, he turned it on for the next four, registering 11 shots. Most impressive, he was creating most of his offense on his own, turning on his trademark jets to blow by defensemen with ease. Still, no goals.

"Very frustrating," he said. "You just try to keep your chin up."

He cracked the scoresheet at 16:23 of the first period last night to put the Penguins up, 2-1, giving them a lead they never gave up.

Daigle isn't on the first-team power play, but he got a rare chance to skate with them when Jan Hrdina went to the bench early in the man-advantage.

"That was the lucky part," he said. "It's great to be out there with those guys."

Shortly after going over the boards, Daigle gathered the puck in the left corner of the Buffalo zone. It soon would come full circle.

Daigle whipped a pass to the opposite corner to Mario Lemieux, who touched it back to the right point for Alexei Kovalev, who tapped it across to the left point for Dick Tarnstrom, all in less time than it takes to say their names.

"All the way around Buffalo's box," Daigle said. "It looked like they got caught looking."

With the Sabres standing still, Daigle seized the opportunity to slice between defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Alexei Zhitnik to position himself squarely in front of goaltender Martin Biron.

"Once Tarnstrom got the puck, I was either going to stay to the side of the net or go to the front to give him somewhere to go with it," Daigle said. "I knew I was his only play."

Spotting Daigle, Tarnstrom took something off his shot to aim it toward him. Daigle did the rest, raising his stick waist-high to get his blade on the puck and redirect it downward and behind Biron.

"It wasn't a hard shot, so that makes it easier," he said. "I knew I was going to get it when it was coming at me. I got it right in the middle of the blade."

A day earlier in Detroit, in an attempt to keep his spirits up, Daigle had predicted that it would be an ugly goal that broke his drought, "one off my behind or something." This one bore little resemblance to the first 100 of his career, but neither was it ugly.

"Well, it was close to what I thought it would be," he said, laughing. "Whatever. That's fine. When I was making plays, I was hitting posts or hitting the goaltender. I couldn't do anything with them. This is a real plus."

A relief, too, considering he has only three more days before he makes what is sure to be a heavily trumpeted return to Ottawa, where he started and spent most of his NHL life.

"Oh, for sure, I didn't want to go there with a zero," he said. "I didn't want to get abused anymore. That's definitely a plus."

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1938.

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