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Straka has had no good returns

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 10, 2002

What kind of a dark cloud is Martin Straka under?

The Penguins center left Thursday's game against the Hurricanes with a sprained ankle that put him on crutches; not so bad until one takes into account the rest of Straka's season.

He has a titanium rod in his right leg after surgery to fix the break sustained Oct. 28 against the Panthers, and a metal plate in his head, the result of surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone around his left eye.

"He's certainly not the luckiest guy on our team," goaltender Johan Hedberg said.

Straka turned his ankle playing his first game since the orbital bone fracture eight days earlier against the Kings. That was his first game since breaking his leg.

He lasted two shifts against the Kings. He made it through six shifts against the Hurricanes.

"I feel so bad for Marty," coach Rick Kehoe said. "He worked so hard to get back in the lineup and try to help us. Every time, something happened to him. ... It's hard to explain. It's just one of those years. No matter what he does, something is always happening to him. I don't know why."

MORE PENGUINS: There will be no contract talks between general manager Craig Patrick and defenseman Darius Kasparaitis or center Robert Lang, fueling speculation both potential unrestricted free agents will be dealt before the March19 trade deadline.

Patrick said he has no plans to trade either, and Lang's broken left hand, which should keep him out two weeks, could make a deal more difficult, though rumors persist the Blues are interested.

WEEKES MAKES THREE: It can't be a good situation in Carolina, where the addition of Kevin Weekes gave the team three goaltenders, including Arturs Irbe and Tom Barrasso.

Indications are that Weekes and Irbe will be around next season. But what about this season?

"I don't have an answer other than to say it is what it is," GM Jim Rutherford said. "We have three very capable goalies. It makes the situation a bit more difficult but I really felt the opportunity to get Kevin at this time is important and Paul (coach Maurice) will have to sort this out on a game-to-game basis."

"It's a curious situation," Irbe said. "The key is to stay level-headed."

Easy for the level-headed Weekes.

"I'm just here to help the team win," he said.

FIGHTING WORDS: There is a brewing feud between the Wild and Canucks. It began in December when Vancouver's Matt Cooke broke the nose of Wild defenseman Jason Marshall with a sucker punch. It continued March 2, when Wild enforcer Matt Johnson suckered Mattias Ohlund because he thought he was taking liberties with Minnesota star Marian Gaborik.

"They have a couple of guys who aren't good enough to play in the NHL," Ohlund said. "You don't jump guys. Some guys are cheap players. They jump guys from behind. There's no place in hockey for that kind of stuff.

Said Johnson: "I play on a team where guys stick up for one another. If you don't believe in sticking up for your teammates then you should play in another league."

The teams next meet April5. ORIGINAL SIX: Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios can't believe it took until Wednesday for Detroit to play the Maple Leafs, and is shocked his team will not visit Toronto this season, the first time that's happened in the rivalry's 75 years.

"The original six (which also includes the Rangers, Blackhawks, Bruins and Canadiens) should play home andhome every year," he said. "Cut out Tampa Bay and Florida. I'm sorry, I know we have lots of fans down there, but it's not right to skip Toronto."

ODDS AND ENDS: Eyebrows were raised last week when Blackhawks coach Brian Sutter gave backup goalie Steve Passmore two starts, which turned into two victories, in place of Jocelyn Thibault. And don't be surprised if Chicago bids this summer for unrestricted free agent Curtis Joseph. ... Before the Panthers beat the Oilers Friday, the team had lost seven in a row and six straight by one goal (two in overtime). ... Goaltender Dominik Hasek makes his return to Buffalo today after being dealt from the Sabres last summer. ... Devils defenseman Scott Stevens, 37, should play his 1,500th game Wednesday against the Islanders, becoming the eighth player to hit that milestone. ... The Predators are 0-10-1 in games in which they tried to reach .500. ... Coyotes captain Teppo Numminen is the second Finnish-born player and 20th overall to appear in 1,000 games, all with one franchise. ... Phoenix coach Bobby Francis' mailbox was robbed while he was in San Diego during the Olympic break. Now someone with a driver's license with Francis' name and address on it is trying to cash stolen checks. "We've had to change all our credit cards," Francis said. "It's been a headache." ... Toronto assistant coach Keith Acton said he has testicular cancer.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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