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Penguins Penguins Report: 12/22/02

Sunday, December 22, 2002

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer


Penguins vs. Buffalo Sabres, 7:08 p.m. tomorrow, Mellon Arena. TV, radio: Fox Sports Net; WWSW-FM (94.5), WBGG-AM (970).


The Penguins scratched C Kris Beech (appendectomy), RW Aleksey Morozov (wrist), D Dick Tarnstrom (foot), D Janne Laukkanen (hip), D Josef Melichar (shoulder), C Randy Robitaille, RW Alexandre Daigle and D Brooks Orpik. Orpik was a healthy scratch for the first time after playing his first six NHL games. The Flames scratched C Rob Niedermayer (knee), RW Scott Nichol (suspension), LW Craig Berube and D Jordan Leopold.

RW Shean Donovan and D Hans Jonsson returned to the lineup, marking the fourth consecutive game in which a Penguins player came off the injury list. Donovan, who missed 11 games because of a broken foot, skated yesterday morning for the first time and told the training staff he could play. "Compared to running shoes, it's not comfortable at all in the skate, but it feels good enough," he said. Donovan said he would wear a skate guard to protect his injured foot, but only temporarily. "It would be a smart idea to wear it all the time, I guess," he said. "But you worry so much about having your feet feel light." Jonsson missed three games with a thigh injury.

Tarnstrom, whose foot was broken Nov. 29, two days after Donovan's, tried to walk in a skate boot but is not ready to resume skating. His broken bone, unlike Donovan's, is weight-bearing and requires more healing time. He could be back within the week but last night said he had no target date.

RW Alexei Kovalev's minus-20 rating is tied for lowest in the NHL with Thrashers RW Shawn McEachern, including minus-11 in his past seven games. But he isn't terribly troubled by the dubious distinction. "Plus-minus is overrated," he said. "I think it shouldn't be in hockey. Hockey's a team sport. This is something you can't control. It can just be a lot of bad luck. You can be one of the best defensive players in the league and still be a minus. I don't think people who have a big minus should be worried about that too much."

Al MacNeil, the Flames' interim coach, had plenty of reason to be sentimental about returning to Pittsburgh, having been a rugged defenseman on the Penguins' inaugural team in 1967-68. "It was the start of something, and we all knew it," he said. "We had a good group of guys, an older club with Andy Bathgate, Leo Boivin and Les Binkley, and we just missed the playoffs. It was a good time, a good start." The original Penguins went 27-34-13 but averaged crowds of just 7,407 in the building they still call home. "Pittsburgh had a huge history in the AHL with the Hornets, and you would have thought they would have grabbed the NHL experience right away," MacNeil said. "But it didn't happen that quickly." MacNeil, 67, had only two goals and 10 assists that season, but he described his forte as hitting. "If you left yourself open, I could smoke you." His salary that season: $25,000.

MacNeil was Calgary's assistant GM when the 1985-86 Flames were the last NHL team to overcome a double-digit losing streak and make the playoffs. They lost 11 in a row and went on to the Stanley Cup final, thanks mostly to the unwavering positive outlook of their coach, Bob Johnson. "Badger was just never discouraged, even when we lost the 11th game. He always felt that the next one was going to be the one to turn the tide," MacNeil said. "You just have to believe in yourselves, especially if there's an injury factor like there is here. In today's NHL, with the way the lineups are formed, if you get hit with six or seven injuries, they're hard to replace. I wouldn't say it's the end of the world for Pittsburgh."

It has been two seasons since Flames D Bob Boughner left Pittsburgh through free agency, but his edgy approach to the game hasn't changed in the slightest, as evidenced by his flattening of Penguins LW Dan LaCouture in the second period. That trait, he said, makes him a good fit in Calgary, which long has built its roster in physical fashion. "It's the only way we win, to tell you the truth," he said. "We need to get the puck deep, hit hard and play simple hockey, all the cliches. I'm not talking about fighting, just about being a physical, hard-nosed team that wins its battles on the boards and in the corners. We have a little bit of scoring, but we need to have everybody going every night."

Fewer than 2,000 tickets remain for the game tomorrow against the Sabres. The Penguins are alerting ticket-holders that faceoff is at 7:08 p.m., a half-hour earlier than usual.


WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON (11-14-2-2) did not play.

WHEELING (10-19-2) lost to Toledo, 4-2, at Wheeling Civic Center. RW Chris McNamara scored his eighth goal, D Jean-Philippe Soucy his third. G Mike Valley stopped 30 of 33 shots.

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