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22 PITTSBURGH Penguins
Brian Cazeneuve
October 14, 2002
Murphy's law is the rule for a team that gets a lot of breaks—all of them bad
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October 14, 2002

22 Pittsburgh Penguins

Murphy's law is the rule for a team that gets a lot of breaks—all of them bad

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Little depth; Lemieux, Straka have health concerns



Unit will have trouble defending on rush, cycle



Hedberg can be beaten high; backup Aubin unproven



Nieminen, Donovan have to limit attack-zone time on PK



G.M. Patrick's draft record spotty over last seven years

Forgive the Penguins for cursing their luck. In August forward Ville Nieminen needed 70 stitches in his arms, legs and face after he fell through the glass door of a sauna in his native Finland. A month earlier forward Martin Straka had suffered a compressed vertebra when a bar loaded with weights fell on him during a workout in his native Czech Republic, an injury that will sideline him until November. That's the same Straka who last season missed four months with a broken right leg and who, on his third shift back, suffered a fractured orbital bone after being accidentally slashed by Pittsburgh goaltender Johan Hedberg. Five games later Straka returned—and broke his leg again.

That misfortune—and his inconsistent play—was enough to drive Hedberg to a psychologist over the summer. "When I think back on last year, I feel shame," says Hedberg. "I didn't just want to work out my body to get rid of it; I wanted to work out my head as well." One of the mental exercises Hedberg did in his weekly two-hour sessions with a therapist was envisioning himself making saves, which in the reality of last season he didn't do often enough while enduring a league-high 34 losses.

The Penguins, in fact, missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years and had their lowest point total (69) in a nonlockout season since 1984-85. "When you don't make the playoffs, there isn't one low point," says general manager Craig Patrick. "It all stinks."

It didn't help that the power play clicked with only 14.0% efficiency or that Mario Lemieux, who helped Canada win an Olympic gold medal in February, couldn't play following the Games because of a hip injury. Lemieux says he's healthy again and hopes to play at least 75 games. "We're going to surprise people," says Lemieux. "We can compete for the Stanley Cup."

He's kidding, right? After all, forward Alexei Kovalev is the only returning player who had as many as 30 goals or 60 points last season, and the newcomers—defenseman Marc Bergevin and forwards Alexandre Daigle, Steve McKenna and Alexander Selivanov—are journeymen. For the Penguins to even make the playoffs, they would have to have luck on their side, and that's something they can't count on.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]