Pittsburgh, PA
May 28, 2023
    News           Sports           Lifestyle           Classifieds           About Us
Pirates Q&A
Headlines by E-mail
Home >  Sports >  Columnists Printer-friendly versionE-mail this story
Finder: Penguins look as if something's missing

Sunday, October 07, 2001

The lady in Section C-25 wearing a dearly departed jersey number made something of a fashion statement. She covered the R in the name emblazoned across her shoulders. She replaced it with three letters scrawled on paper. So her fashion statement read, in pure Pittsburghese: JAGOFF.

Now is that any way to treat a No. 68 who bore the Penguins on his shoulders for so long?

The club certainly looked like it missed Jaromir Jagr last night, when he was ringing up a goal and an assist in his triumphal Washington Capitals debut.

The club certainly looked like it missed Mario Lemieux, too. At least the Penguins will get him back, once his balky hip flexor feels better, which might be as long as a week. But, for last night, the owner-player watched from his Mellon Arena suite as his employees-teammates spotted the Mighty Ducks a three-goal lead in the first period of a 4-2 spanking. He watched a spanking administered by a team nearly as young as the Banks-and-Goldberg bunch from the kiddie movies of the same Ducks nickname. He watched along with the first non-sellout crowd in 34 games, and hopefully he worried.

If Lemieux goes ahead with his plan to give himself 15 or 16 nights off this season on back-to-back playing dates -- ownership has its privileges -- then it may leave his Penguins too punchless. Too oh-ffensive. Too dependent on Alexei Kovalev, who flashes from All-Gone (zero shots in an acrid first period) to All-Star (six shots the second and four the third). This young club needs another guy in uniform old enough to remember the '60s, and by that we don't mean the jersey numbers.

These Penguins, the league's second-scoringest team last season, unleashed 33 shots upon future Hall of Famer Patrick Roy and managed just a Robert Lang goal Wednesday. OK, that wasn't so bad. But last night, against a young man named Steve Shields, they unleashed 43 shots and managed just two goals, by a third- and fourth-liner.

That was bad.

For folks scoring at home, your club is shooting 3 for 76.

"We put 40 shots on net," Lang said afterward. "Hey, that's quite a night.

"But we should be ahead in that game instead of behind."

They entered this season without Jagr, believing it left them with a little better balance and a little better psyche, even though it meant subtracting the best offensive player in the game. They entered this game without Lemieux, believing it was a pop quiz for later. Then they spent the night looking like they were trying to set up No. 68 or No. 66. No one was home.

Worse still, they looked undisciplined, uninterested at the start. Whether that's ascribed to an absence of coaching or discipline or Captain Comeback, it's inexcusable just the same. After all, this was the season's second game, not its 52nd amid February's dog days. Shields played splendidly in the second and third periods, when Ivan Hlinka's club outshot the visiting waterfowl by 33-11. But, as Lang said, this game never should have reached that three-zip broiling point.

"We had a horrible, horrible first period as far as work ethic and intensity," Penguins defenseman Andrew Ference said. "It was apparent to everybody -- players, coaches, fans. You spot a team three goals, it's going to be hard to come back, whether they're the last-place team or the first-place team."

It's one thing to lose to the Stanley Cup champions, as they did with a creaky Lemieux against Colorado Wednesday. It's another thing to lose to one of the NHL's least talented teams and certainly the worst of its waterfowl. Suddenly, they're 0-2 for the first time in five seasons.

It's probably too early to commence any Hliminate Hlinka movement, even though so far he has floundered in his two off-season mandates: play the fourth line and study English (he was quoted last night as inexplicably saying, "I think it should be the stupid team on the other side if you can win the game, and we gave them everything in the first period.") It's probably too early to wonder about the forwards' defensive discipline and their nagging habit, in Ference's words, toward fooling around with the puck in the neutral zone. It's probably too early to panic, as the purveyors of the Steelers' passing game scream.

But it's not too soon to fret about the offense, about the team's best player taking too much time off.

You can reach Chuck Finder at cfinder@post-gazette.com

Back to top Back to top E-mail this story E-mail this story
Search | Contact Us |  Site Map | Terms of Use |  Privacy Policy |  Advertise | Help |  Corrections