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Kehoe plans lineup changes |

Kehoe plans lineup changes

| Saturday, October 12, 2002 12:00 a.m

The morning after the worst season-opening loss in their 35-year history, the Penguins practiced without their most important players.Coach Rick Kehoe said it was best that Mario Lemieux and Alexei Kovalev rest up for the New York Rangers, who visit Mellon Arena tonight. Kehoe said neither player was injured — although Lemieux needs to take precautions for his chronically sore back — and that other players shouldn’t take his decision to rest the two as a negative message.“Look at the game (Thursday) night,” Kehoe said, referring to a 6-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. “Between the two of them, they had 14 shots — almost half our shots — and they both logged over 20 minutes. There’s no concern. We had enough players out there to practice. They just needed a little rest for what we were going to do. So, they sat out, did a little (exercise) bike.”Other players didn’t seem offended. They’ve had varying experiences. Some have been on teams where star players frequently sat out practice, even early in the season after crushing defeats. Others, such as winger Ville Nieminen, have been on teams where the stars rarely sat out. That was the case with Nieminen’s former club, the Colorado Avalanche.Asked if the absence of the team leaders yesterday was discouraging, or perhaps sent a bad message, Nieminen said, “I don’t know. I think they were just saving their energy for (tonight) or something like that. I really don’t know what the deal was, and it’s not my business, either.”Veteran center Kent Manderville didn’t think anything of it. He said star players on his former teams got to rest because they got the most ice time. Kovalev led all the Penguins ice time (25:30) Thursday, followed by defenseman Michal Rozsival (25:21) and Lemieux (23:28). No other player logged more than 20 minutes.“It’s normal,” Manderville said. “It’s a long season. I think that because there are 30 teams and only a certain number of players who are that gifted, they get a lot of ice time. It happened in Philly. It happened in Carolina — everywhere I’ve been.”Meanwhile, Kehoe has lineup changes planned for tonight. For starters, winger Dan LaCouture will return to the lineup after getting scratched Thursday. Kehoe didn’t say who would come out. There might also be a goaltender change and perhaps some changes on defense, where Marc Bergevin and Dick Tarnstrom were scratched Thursday.Kehoe told both goaltenders, Johan Hedberg and Jean-Sebastien Aubin, to be ready. Both might be needed — simultaneously — if the Penguins give up as many odd-man breaks as they did Thursday.“I’ll probably take (the decision) right up to the game,” Kehoe said.Kehoe also might switch his line combinations, as he did in the third period against Toronto.“We discussed it,” he said after a 45-minute practice at Mellon Arena. “You hate, just because of one game, to split them up. We might go back and see how they go. Or after a couple of shifts, if they don’t go too well, we might have to change them again.”The coaches might have to change the power play, too, because the Penguins went 0 for 9 Thursday. They reverted to bad, old habits, opting for low-percentage passes instead of open shots. Without Kovalev and Lemieux, they couldn’t practice the power play yesterday, but a lack of practice didn’t seem to be the problem. A lack of discretion was more like it. Jan Hrdina, in particular, will be closely monitored on the power play. His career-long reluctance to shoot shows little sign of reversing. He had two shots Thursday, both in the first period. That was up from his career average of 1.24. To put that number in perspective, consider that Milan Kraft has averaged 1.5 shots in 110 NHL games.Asked if there still was hope that Hrdina could change — or whether it might be easier to put someone else on the power play — Kehoe said, “Usually what happens, if he doesn’t start shooting it, you make a change. You get somebody out there who’s gonna shoot.”

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