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Penguins Penguins Report: 1/22/03

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

LOOKING AHEAD

Penguins vs. Boston Bruins, 8:08 p.m. tomorrow, Mellon Arena. TV, radio: ESPN; WWSW-FM (94.5), WBGG-AM (970).

NOTEBOOK

The Penguins scratched C Mario Lemieux (groin), RW Aleksey Morozov (wrist), D Janne Laukkanen (hip), D Josef Melichar (shoulder), G Johan Hedberg (clavicle), LW Dan LaCouture and D Andrew Ference. The Sabres scratched LW Jochen Hecht (concussion), LW Vaclav Varada (knee), RW Maxim Afinogenov (concussion) and D Rhett Warrener (foot).

RW Alexei Kovalev was able to play last night and log 24:26 of ice time after giving his injured left knee a successful test at the morning skate. He said after the game his knee was not a problem, but he still has no assurances that he will not require some form of surgery to repair it. He was hurt Saturday in Florida when Panthers D Igor Ulanov fell on his knee. "Usually, if the injury is serious, there's a lot of swelling after a couple of days, but it's only a little swollen," he said. "I'll have to see how it goes. If it gets painful or more swollen, we might need to do arthroscopic surgery to see what's going on." He has had such surgery previously, but always on his other knee.

The Penguins' push to trade Kovalev is certain to resonate across the NHL, not only because he is among the game's elite scorers and could shift the balance of power, but also because it could provide yet another sign that low-revenue teams are unable to keep their best players. "It's always tough when you're not able to keep your stars," Lemieux said yesterday when asked about Kovalev and recent prominent players who left because the team could not afford them. "It's difficult for everybody, in Pittsburgh and around the league." He added that he hopes situations such as the Penguins' help to bring a new financial structure for the league when the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the players expires in 2004.

D Dick Tarnstrom couldn't help but think negatively about his environs while preparing for the game yesterday. "Hate this place," he said. It wasn't the subzero temperatures outside that were bothering him, but rather a nasty run of misfortune he has had at HSBC Arena in his two-year NHL career. Last season, while with the Islanders, a knee ligament was strained in mid-season in Buffalo. And Nov. 29, his foot was broken by a shot in the final minute of the Penguins' 4-1 victory, forcing him to sit out a month. "Nothing good has happened here," he said.

Something good happened to LW Michal Sivek in Buffalo. It was the site of his NHL debut the night Tarnstrom was hurt, and his two-way play impressed management to the extent that he has yet to be returned to the minor leagues. Like Tarnstrom, though, he did have one nagging, negative memory of that evening. It came in the third period, when he had a chance at his first NHL goal but shot into the backside of Sabres G Martin Biron, who had lost track of the puck and was facing the wrong direction. Afterward, Biron said he barely felt something to catch his attention. "My goal when I play here is to shoot it harder off the goalie's behind," Sivek said. "I want to at least make him say 'Ow.' "

For all the Penguins' tangible achievements in producing a winning record on the five-game road trip which ended last night, they also might have come away a little extra. They spent 10 days together on planes and buses, hanging out in or near their hotels, and even found time for their annual rookie dinner Sunday night in Florida, sticking Sivek, RW Tom Kostopoulos and G Sebastien Caron with the four-figure tab. "I think having that kind of time together helps a lot," C Milan Kraft said. "When we're together a lot like this, on and off the ice, I think the guys get to know each other a little bit more."

The Sabres' overtime loss to the Islanders on New Year's Eve left them at 8-22-5-2 and light years removed from the Stanley Cup playoff picture. Since the calendar turned, though, they are 6-1-2 and only a dozen or so points out of the race with 36 games left. C Stu Barnes, Buffalo's captain, had difficulty pinpointing the source of the turnaround. "It's just come together. Guys are doing their jobs," he said. "Plus, if you look back at the way all season has gone, we've been in almost every game." Biron, too, pointed simply to a change of fortune: "Now, when our shots hit the post, they go in. It feels like the wind is changing direction. And from that, players are getting more confidence and showing more character."

The Capitals had two scouts at the game, the Rangers and Predators one each. Washington plays the Penguins Jan. 30, and Nashville plays the Sabres Monday.

MINOR-LEAGUE REPORT
MONDAY'S RESULTS

WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON (19-19-2-3) did not play. LW Tomas Surovy yesterday was named to participate in the AHL All-Star Game Feb. 3. He took the place of C Milan Kraft on the PlanetUSA roster. Kraft has been with the Penguins since early December.

WHEELING (17-25-3) did not play.

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