Lemieux gets attention

Penguins get 5-3 victory

Second line strikes as Caps, sold-out MCI focus on returning star

January 09, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - With his familiar black-and-gold No. 66 sweater taking its share of seats at the sold-out MCI Center, Pittsburgh Penguins center Mario Lemieux had all eyes on him for most of last night.

What the Washington Capitals forgot to do was watch out for the Penguins' second line. Center Martin Straka and wings Alexei Kovalev and Robert Lang accounted for nine points, keeping the Penguins close for Ian Moran to score the game-winner, his first goal of the season, en route to a 5-3 win.

Straka provided the finishing touch with his third goal of the game, into an empty net with 1:08 to play. Goalie Jean-Sebastien Aubin, who had missed more than a month after knee surgery, made 24 saves to get the win.

It's the second time in less than a week Pittsburgh got past the Capitals, who are 19-15-8 at the top of the NHL's Southeast Division. Last Wednesday, the Penguins came from behind in Pittsburgh for a 3-2 win.

In his first game on visiting ice in his comeback, now five games in, Lemieux registered two assists to increase his point total to 14. It was the first time the Penguins' player/owner was held without a goal.

His second assist came on Moran's goal, a slap shot just inside the blue line with 12:39 left in the game. Lang (one goal, one assist) tied the score at 3 with a wrist shot in the slot just 30 seconds earlier.

While all the attention was directed toward the return of Lemieux, the talk after the game centered around Straka and Co.

"We got some tremendous plays out of Straka tonight," Lemieux said. "It's going to be very important for us if we want to do anything this year to get the second line involved in the offense.

"You are not going to win with just one line. Actually, you need three lines that are able to play against anybody and score pretty much every night."

Straka was just glad to provide production. "In the last five games, since Mario came back, they carried us - they got goals and goals and we couldn't score. We still had the chances, but just couldn't pick up the goals. Tonight, we got some luck and scored some goals," he said.

All the Capitals' scoring came in the second period as they took a 3-2 lead going into the third period.

Down 1-0, the Caps got goals 13 seconds apart from Adam Oates and Peter Bondra - each setting up the other, with Richard Zednik getting the second assist on both - for a 2-1 lead just 1:10 into the second period.

Straka got the Penguins even - putting home a rebound off a Lang shot with 7:43 left, but Ulf Dahlen scored with the Capitals on a two-man advantage with 2:38 left. The third period belonged to the Penguins, who have gone 9-2 against the Capitals since the start of last season.

"We just got to go out and play the way we're playing. We got to still keep believing," said Capitals forward Steve Konowalchuk. "Both games [against Pittsburgh] were good games and both could have gone either way, but right now we're on the short end of the stick. We got to go out next time we play them and play the same way."

Pittsburgh's power play, connecting at an impressive 35 percent clip since Lemieux's return, went to work late in the first period.

The Penguins took advantage of a two-man advantage with 5:07 left - getting a goal from Straka, assisted by Lemieux - to take a 1-0 lead at the first intermission.

Lemieux, stationed down low on the left side, sent a soft pass at the blue line for Straka, who one-timed a shot that hit the right post before bouncing off Olaf Kolzig (26 saves) and in.

Last night was the second sellout of the season for the Capitals and more arenas can be expected to be filled to capacity when the Penguins visit, starting tonight in Boston.

"It was a pretty tough ticket. Usually we get tickets down low when the Penguins come to town, but we could barely get these ones up top," said Rockville resident Rich Wirdzek, 21, a student at California (Pa.) University and longtime Lemieux fan.

"Mario was the first player I watched play. I think it's incredible what he's done. ... It's like he never left as far as I'm concerned."

Pittsburgh 1 1 3 - 5

Washington 0 3 0 - 3

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