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Penguins Penguins Report: 12/24/02

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer


Penguins vs. Rangers, 7:08 p.m. Thursday, Madison Square Garden, New York. 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. The Sabres scratched C Jochen Hecht (concussion), RW Maxim Afinogenov (concussion), D Rory Fitzpatrick (concussion), D Rhett Warrener (groin), LW Rob Ray and D Radoslav Hecl.

Because Coach Rick Kehoe didn't want to tinker with the lineup which ended the Penguins' 10-game losing streak Saturday, Orpik did not dress for a second consecutive game, even though coaches were pleased with his work in his first six NHL games. That kept him from getting to face his hometown team, the Sabres, for the first time. He is a native of Amherst, N.Y. "This was kind of a surprise to me," he said of being removed from the lineup, "but I'm just happy to be here right now. You want to be patient but, at the same time, you want to be playing. It's good to hear that the coaches say I'm playing well, but it doesn't change the fact that I'm not in the lineup. I'll just work hard in practice and give 100 percent."

C Milan Kraft and LW Michal Sivek, like all of the Penguins' European players, don't have time to go home to be with their families for Christmas since the NHL's holiday break is just two days. So, this year, their families came to them. Kraft's mother, Hana, arrived in Pittsburgh yesterday, as did Sivek's mother, Vlasta. Sivek's mother had an illness last year which caused him to leave the organization for most of the season to be with her. Last night, she was in Mellon Arena watching her son in an NHL game for the first time and saw him collect his first NHL point by assisting on Kraft's first-period goal. "She's doing well now, and it's so good to have her here," Sivek said. "This is a very special day." Czechs open their gifts on Christmas Eve, which the Kraft and Sivek families will spend together with a home-cooked meal. "There's no time for us to see them, so this is really nice," Kraft said.

G Johan Hedberg has had some of the best showings in the NHL against the Sabres. In addition to being 5-1-1 against them in the regular season, he ranks a Game 7 victory against Buffalo and G Dominik Hasek in the 2000 Stanley Cup playoffs as the pinnacle of his career. "Every time I see their sweater, it reminds of that series. It was so emotional, especially the way it ended," he said, referring to D Darius Kasparaitis' overtime goal. "Just seeing Kaspar sliding and Hasek at the other end ... unbelievable moment. And, you know, they still have a lot of the same players, so that brings that feeling back even more."

There are 15 members of that 2000 Buffalo team still on the roster, part of what makes their fall into last place surprising. LW Miroslav Satan, the Sabres' most dangerous scorer, believes it began with the departure of the franchise's linchpin after that playoff loss to the Penguins. "We don't have Dominik anymore, so that's probably the biggest reason," Satan said. "Other than that, most of the team is the same. For some reason, it's not the same, though. I don't know why. For all of us, this situation is hard. It's a lesson for us. That's how I'm taking it. I'm just trying to keep my head up and work hard."

Another factor has been Buffalo's various off-ice distractions. Late last week, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said it's a possibility that the team's financially troubled operations could be declared bankrupt soon and that it might even be moved as soon as next season. C Stu Barnes had a similar experience four years ago as a member of the then-bankrupt Penguins, and he has relayed that to his teammates. "We try not to talk about it," Barnes said. "But it's out there, so we have to." "It's so valuable having Stu around because he went through it in Pittsburgh," C Curtis Brown said. "As a player, all you need is the confidence that everything is going to work out. That's all we've really been told, and that's fine. Since the season started, it hasn't even been an issue, for the most part. Our job is to go out and play."

Buoyed by the giveaway of Martin Straka bobblehead dolls, the crowd of 16,569 was the seventh in 17 home games to top 16,000. Mellon Arena capacity is 16,958.


WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON (13-14-2-2) beat Portland, 2-1, at First Union Arena. C Matt Hussey scored his seventh goal, D Mike Wilson his first. G Sebastien Caron stopped 35 of 36 shots.

WHEELING (11-19-2) did not play.

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