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Penguins

Inconsistency wearing on Kovalev

Kevin Gorman
| Saturday, Jan. 11, 2003

Alexei Kovalev has every reason to be frustrated.

Linemates Mario Lemieux (groin) and Jan Hrdina (back spasms) have been out with injuries, the power play is struggling and the Penguins have been streakier than British females at Wimbledon.

Kovalev vented Friday after practice at Southpointe.

“It's tough,” Kovalev said. “You try to do so much with those guys out of the lineup (but) you can't beat a team by yourself. You've got to play together. You have to find chemistry on the line you're playing with. As long as we stay on the same line, guys get used to each other, but we've done a lot of rotating.

"One guy comes back, another goes out with an injury.”

Kovalev was only getting started.

What bothered him most was the Penguins' play in a 4-2 loss to Toronto on Thursday despite the absence of Maple Leafs forwards Mats Sundin, Gary Roberts, Mikael Renberg, Shayne Corson and Tom Fitzgerald. They scored on a shot saved by Jean-Sebastien Aubin behind the goal line. They scored short-handed. And they scored on a giveaway in the neutral zone.

“It seems to me some guys try to do a job they've never done before and get caught,” Kovalev said. “Everybody has got to know their roles. We just looked ridiculous out there. They were making plays all over the place and we were chasing them. We have a lot of energy, but we have to be smart.

“We're not playing smart right now.”

Worse yet, their greatest strength is slipping. The Penguins rank first in the NHL on the power play, scoring at a rate of 26.2 percent, but without Lemieux, Hrdina and Tarnstrom went 1 of 9 against Toronto and couldn't convert on five first-period chances.

“I wouldn't say confidence but guys feel more responsibility — because Mario's not in the lineup — to win the game for us,” Kovalev said. “I'm sure it's a lot easier to play (us) when we have two or three scorers than when we have one or two.

"They're not giving our line much room. We had some chances early, but everything got so close and we couldn't get the puck to the net. It seems like they were more relaxed against the other lines.”

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