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 home team Capitals forgot to do was watch out for the Penguins' second line.

The combination of center Martin Straka and wings Alexi Kovalev and Robert Lang accounted for nine points in all, keeping the Penguins close for defenseman Ian Moran to score the game-winner, his first goal of the season, for a 5-3 win.

Straka provided the finishing touch with his third goal of the game - coming on an empty net with 1:08 to play.

Pittsburgh goalie Jean Sebastien Aubin, who missed more than a month following knee surgery, made 21 saves. It's the second time in less than a week Pittsburgh got past the Capitals, who are now 19-15-8 at the top of the NHL's Southeast Division.

In his first game on visiting ice since his latest return, now five games in, Lemieux registered two assists and has 14 points. It's the first time he was without a goal.

Lemieux's second assist came on Moran's goal, a slap shot just inside the blue line with 12:39 left in the third period. Lang got the game tied at 3 with a wrist shot in the slot just 30 seconds prior.

"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. Before they hadn't scored an even-strength goal for four or five games so we need them to pick it up," Lemieux said. "[Straka] is a good player for us. He's got a lot of speed and got some experience. the top two lines are very important to us to go out and score every night and take the pressure off of everybody."

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 one another 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 7:47 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.

"It's just not two players on their team. They got possibly the two best offensive lines in the league. That line came through big for them, and we had Bondra and Oates, who came through big, and Zednik had some chances," Capitals forward Steve Konowalchuk said. "It was a good hockey game, but we came up short."

Added Lemieux: "We never panic. With the talent we have we know that we can put goals in the third period. We had a good feeling after the second period they scored on a five-on-three, but we were right where we wanted to be."

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 5:57 left -getting a goal from Martin 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 Kolzig and in.

Last night was the second sell-out of the season for the Capitals, and it's expected more arenas the Penguins visit will be filled to capacity, 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, 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."

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