22 Pittsburgh Penguins Murphy's law is the rule for a team that gets a lot of breaks--all of them bad

October 13, 2002

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. --B.C.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Mario Lemieux

FAST FACT

In 2001-02 Johan Hedberg became the third goalie in 26 years to
have as many as 25 wins and 34 losses in a season, joining Tony
Esposito (1976-77) and Felix Potvin ('96-97).

INSIDER

CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY

OFFENSE 22 Little depth; Lemieux, Straka have
health concerns
DEFENSE 30 Unit will have trouble defending on
rush, cycle
GOALTENDING 29 Hedberg can be beaten high; backup Aubin
unproven
SPECIAL TEAMS 22 Nieminen, Donovan have to limit
attack-zone time on PK
MANAGEMENT 25 G.M. Patrick's draft record spotty over
last seven years

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)