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Penguins report: 3/1/04
Monday, March 01, 2004

LOOKING AHEAD

New York Islanders vs. Penguins, 7:38 p.m. tomorrow, Mellon Arena. TV, radio: Fox Sports Net; WWSW-FM (94.5), WBGG-AM (970).

NOTEBOOK

The Penguins scratched C Mario Lemieux (hip), LW Kelly Buchberger (heel), LW Ramzi Abid (knee), LW Steve McKenna (chest), D Michal Rozsival (knee), D Martin Strbak (foot) and D Marc Bergevin for their game yesterday against the New York Islanders. Buchberger has an infected bone spur in his heel, and it is not known how long he will be out. The Islanders scratched C Michael Peca (leg), C Alexei Yashin (arm), D Radek Martinek (ankle) and RW Eric Godard.

NHL statistics will show that the Penguins rank 27th of 30 teams in faceoff winning percentage at 47.1. The numbers from their 3-2 overtime victory yesterday are even worse: They won 27 and lost 43, a success rate of 39 percent. But there was no doubt that they won most of the draws that mattered. New York's first goal came on a lost faceoff in the defensive zone by C Rico Fata, but C Milan Kraft made up for that by setting up both of the Penguins' regulation goals with clean victories against Islanders C Eric Manlow. "Faceoffs are a big part of the game," Kraft said. "I just wanted to get the puck back, and my teammates did a great job getting the goals." Coach Eddie Olczyk and his staff continue to spend extensive time practicing faceoffs. "It's a way to create offense," Olczyk said. "For us, it created two goals."

Manlow, usually one of the Islanders' best faceoff men, was benched for the rest of the game by coach Steve Stirling after the Penguins' second goal at 19:25 of the second period.

It hardly qualifies as news anymore when one of the Penguins' opponents compliments them on working hard. It has happened before and after nearly every game this season. But the Islanders yesterday took that a step further. C Oleg Kvasha: "They played hard, but they played good, too." D Janne Niinimaa: "They surprised us with how hard they came at us, especially on the penalty-killing." The Islanders are in the eighth and final Stanley Cup playoff position in the Eastern Conference, and they would have benefited from added cushion against ninth-place Buffalo. But Stirling, too, had more good to say about the Penguins than bad about his players: "We were lucky to get the point."

G Andy Chiodo's second NHL victory had a secondary meaning for him. He was a sixth-round pick of the Islanders in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, but New York management elected not to sign him within the required two years and allowed him to re-enter the draft in June. The Penguins made him their seventh-round choice, and he appears to be justifying their confidence with each game. He is 3-4 with a 3.00 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.

The Penguins had a built-in excuse for failure, having arrived in New York a day earlier from San Jose and playing an afternoon game less than 48 hours after losing to the Sharks Friday night. "This was a tough turn for us, traveling like we did all day," Olczyk said. But Chiodo said that never crossed his mind as a reason he might not perform well. "No excuses," Chiodo said. "Last year, I was making 12-hour bus rides across Ontario. This was just a plane ride, first class."

It is safe to say that few inside or outside the Penguins' organization would have dared forecast that they would win two of three games on this trip after going 0-17-0-1 in their previous 18. But the most unusual aspect might be that they turned in their strongest overall showing in the middle game, the 4-2 loss in San Jose. "The game that we played the best was the one that we lost," Olczyk said. The trip started with a 4-3 overtime victory Wednesday in Phoenix.

Lemieux attended all three games of the trip.

G Marc-Andre Fleury yesterday improved to 6-0-1 in the QMJHL, making 21 saves in Cape Breton's 3-2 victory against visiting Rouyn-Noranda. Fleury has allowed 11 goals in seven starts since his assignment started.

MINOR-LEAGUE REPORT

Yesterday's results

WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON (24-23-7-5) lost, 3-1, at Toronto. C Shane Endicott scored his 12th goal. G Sebastien Caron stopped 28 of 31 shots.

WHEELING (42-13-2) won, 3-2 by shootout, at Toledo. LW Jason Jaffray scored his 27th goal, D Jake Ortmeyer his eighth. RW Brendon Hodge scored the decisive goal of the shootout. D Mario Larocque had two assists. G Joe Exter stopped 32 of 34 shots.

First published on March 1, 2004 at 12:00 am