And the Mighty Ducks were for most of two periods against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night, keeping penalties to a minimum and withholding chances from a power-play unit that can include Lemieux, Jagr, Ron Francis and Tomas Sandstrom. They showed their respect and turned to goaltender Guy Hebert to stop Lemieux when he bore down on their net, aiming five shots at him in the first period alone.
But the Ducks could neutralize Pittsburgh's potent lineup for only so long--imagine, that holding Lemieux to three assists was success--and the Penguins' superior talent overwhelmed the Ducks in the third period of a 5-2 Pittsburgh victory before 15,809 in the Civic Arena. The Penguins scored three goals in the third period, two in the final 10 minutes.
Lemieux remains three goals from reaching 500 for his career--he will become the second-fastest after Wayne Gretzky to do so--but he increased his scoring total in the four games since returning from an 18-month layoff after back surgery and treatment for Hodgkin's disease to 11 points, second in the NHL.
It was Jagr, though, who dominated the game, once carrying the puck in one huge circle behind the Ducks' net and completely around their zone, just because he could. Jagr scored his fourth and fifth goals of the season, the first when Francis found him open in the slot for a 1-0 lead 4:46 into the second period. His second capped the evening when he muscled the puck into the net through a crowd of skates from beside the net at 16:39 of the third on Pittsburgh's fourth and final power play.
Pittsburgh's lead was only 2-1 after two periods. The Ducks' Steve Rucchin tied the score off a pass from Denny Lambert on a three-on-two rush at 13:24 of the second. The goal was the fourth in four games for Rucchin, a second-year pro who Duck Coach Ron Wilson says has been "easily our best two-way forward."
But an elbowing penalty against the Ducks' Randy Ladouceur sent Pittsburgh on a power play seconds later, and Sandstrom scored the first of his two goals at 14:04 when he kept swiping at the rebound of a Francis shot after defenseman Robert Dirk failed to clear it.
"We hung in there as long as we could," said Wilson, whose team was playing its fourth game in six nights. "Coming out of the second period, I liked the position we were in, but we had a couple of breakdowns. With their skill, we just ran out of gas the last 10 minutes."
The Ducks are pleased, and rightly so, with their young talent, but consider this mind-boggling fact: Jagr is only 23, and has already won an NHL scoring title.
Pittsburgh's cast goes deeper too, as illustrated by the highlight-reel goal by Markus Naslund for a 3-1 lead at 6:02 of the third. Naslund took on the Ducks one-on-three, finally splitting defensemen Dirk and Bobby Dollas as they hauled him down in front of the net, only to score anyway by knocking in the puck from his belly with a sweep of his outstretched stick.
"It shows you how deep they are," Hebert said.
The Ducks' last challenge came when Valeri Karpov scored at 7:01, but Lemieux started the play that made the score 4-2 by backhanding a pass off the boards to send Sandstrom and Petr Nedved out on a two-on-one against Dirk, with Sandstrom scoring.
Mighty Duck Notes
Among the scratches was rookie center Chad Kilger. "He's been run-down, and we think he hasn't competed the way he should in the defensive zone," Wilson said. "You have to earn your spot in the lineup, you're not just handed it." Other scratches were Bob Corkum (hip flexor) and defenseman Milos Holan, who missed a third consecutive game because of persistent cold or flu symptoms. . . . Right wing Todd Ewen has about 20 stitches in his left hand after being cut by a skate Friday during a fight with Buffalo's Rob Ray. The cuts are on his fingers across the knuckle area, and a partially severed tendon in his middle finger also was repaired. The injuries aren't serious, but it's uncertain when he'll be ready to play.