Originally created 10/10/01

Lemieux to miss second straight game with hip injury



CANONSBURG, Pa. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins knew it would be an adjustment without Jaromir Jagr. Now they're trying to get along without Mario Lemieux, too.

Lemieux didn't practice Tuesday because of a hip injury and will miss his second consecutive game Wednesday as the Penguins play the New York Islanders at Mellon Arena. Lemieux also sat out a 4-2 loss at home Saturday to Anaheim.

Coach Ivan Hlinka expects Lemieux to resume practicing Thursday and play Sunday in Buffalo. Lemieux was hurt late in training camp and apparently aggravated the injury in a season-opening 3-1 loss to Colorado on Oct. 3.

"You know him, I know him, if he can do something he will do it but, right now, it's not possible," Hlinka said.

Penguins forward Kevin Stevens also had a hip flexor injury earlier in his career and said it can severely limit a player's mobility. A flexor is a muscle that flexes or bends upon contraction.

"It's not anything serious, but it takes a little time," he said. "It's in your upper leg and it's tough to lift your leg when you get them. But once you get them right, it's fine. It's not like a back injury, but you've got to get it right."

The Penguins must win to avoid their first 0-3 start since 1996-97, Lemieux's last full NHL season. They outshot Colorado and Anaheim nearly 2-to-1 in their first two games, but lost both as goaltender Johan Hedberg gave up seven goals on 40 shots.

With Hedberg not yet playing at the form that carried the Penguins to the Eastern Conference finals last season, Jean-Sebastien Aubin will make his first start since March 23 against Carolina.

Hedberg, who said previously he wanted to start most of the regular-season games, understands why Aubin will play.

"I know that over the course of season, a lot of things can happen and a lot of things can change," said Hedberg, who has played only 11 NHL regular-season games. "If I'm not at the top of my game, there's no sense in me playing if someone else can go in there and do the job. I'll just refocus and wait for my chance to get back in there."

Aubin was 20-14-1 with a 3.13 goals-against average as the starting goalie most of last season, but was benched after the Penguins traded for Hedberg in mid-March and never got his job back.

"It's doesn't do any good to fight against something you can't control; the only thing I can control is doing my best when I get in there," he said. "Before I was focusing on things I shouldn't focus on, and this year is going to be different."

Hlinka's willingness to switch goalies after only two games, even if only for one game, could be a sign the Penguins are concerned about falling too far behind so early in the season. They made the playoffs fairly easily last season but weren't assured of qualifying until about two weeks left in the season.

"It's tough to call it a must game, but I think it is a must game," Stevens said. "We've lost two games in a row at home and that's not a good way to start the season. We've got to come out with some bang and some emotion.

"It used to be easy to make the playoffs, but now it's tough. There are a lot of good teams that won't make the playoffs. In order to get into a good position, you can't start the season on such a down note."

One glaring problem is the Penguins are 0-for-10 on the power play, while opponents have scored three times in 10 chances with a man advantage.

"Not having him (Lemieux) hurts, not having Jaromir Jagr hurts," Stevens said. "It's a whole different feel, it's a whole different mix of guys when you don't have No. 66 on the left side and No. 68 on the right side. Right now, it's a matter of guys getting used to each other."