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сентября 2001 года.
Morozov wants to cut his Mr. September tag // "Post-Gazette"
By Dave Molinari
Aleksey Morozov has spent four years in the National Hockey League. And has come close to realizing his potential for about a month of that time.
There's no shortage of reasons he has underachieved, and most of them can be traced directly to Morozov. It's been a lack of focus some of the time. A lack of commitment at others. And, on more than one occasion, a lack of intensity.
Morozov, though, does not deserve all the blame for the way his career has sputtered. Not after the way management handled him in the fall of 2000, when Morozov did just about everything imaginable in training camp -- except to lock up a meaningful role.
"We kind of messed him up last year," General Manager Craig Patrick said. "He had such a good camp, then we didn't use him much. We were going with a three-line system, and he didn't fit into the three lines.
"This year will be different. We're going to use four lines more regularly, so he'll be able to carry on with the momentum he has in this training camp. Which should have happened last year."
Instead, Morozov, who performed well in the preseason, never made it off the bench in the Penguins' regular-season opener against Nashville in Japan.
He was used sparingly in most of the games that followed and became trapped in the vicious cycle of limited playing time and unproductive play: The less he was used, the less he contributed, which meant that he was used even less.
Morozov did not have anything resembling a positive impact until the final weeks of the regular season, when he piled up four goals and three assists in the final eight games. Not staggering totals, perhaps, but far more impressive than the one goal and 11 assists he managed in his previous 58 appearances.
His resurgence continued in the playoffs, when Morozov had three goals and three assists in 18 games. Perhaps the greatest testimony to his work is this: The guy wearing the No. 95 sweater during the stretch drive and playoffs bore scant resemblance to the one who had it for most of the season.
"When you're in good shape and don't play at the start [of the season], you don't have the confidence," Morozov said. "Then, when you get a chance to play after [several] months, you need a couple of games to feel comfortable again, feel confidence on the ice."
Actually, it didn't happen nearly that quickly for Morozov. If not for the three-game suspension Alexei Kovalev received for hitting an official with the puck in the waning seconds of a March 23 loss at Carolina, Morozov might have been a complete nonfactor in the Penguins' season.
Kovalev's suspension created a void that Morozov filled. Quickly and well. He had the good fortune to play his first game after Kovalev's suspension against New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur, his personal whipping boy, and responded with a goal and two assists.
Morozov did well enough the next two games that, even after Kovalev returned, he continued to get steady work. And to make the most of it.
"I had a good opportunity to play when Alexei Kovalev got his suspension," Morozov said. "I jumped into his spot in the lineup and did well for those three games. I felt confidence during those games, and I felt like I played good hockey in the playoffs."
He has done it again this preseason and, while he didn't particularly command the spotlight for most of the Penguins' 5-3 exhibition victory against Atlanta last night at Mellon Arena, he secured the victory with an empty-net goal at 19:24 of the third period.
Having a good camp is nothing new for Morozov, although it's worth noting that becoming known as "Mr. September" isn't a major objective for most hockey players.
Even though he is entering his fifth pro season, Morozov is just 24 and his game is continuing to evolve.
Witness the Penguins' 4-3 overtime victory against their Wilkes-Barre minor-league team Saturday -- a game in which Morozov had two goals -- when he underscored the physical edge that surfaces now and then by steamrollering Baby Penguins forward Jan Fadrny.
Morozov insisted that he wasn't trying to make a statement or cultivate a reputation as a fearsome body checker -- "I'm just trying to hit a little bit," he said -- his bosses don't complain when he decides to play the body.
"He started playing like that in the playoffs a little last year, got a little grittier," Patrick said. "Got a little edge to his game. Hopefully, that carries into the season."
Although Morozov's role for the coming season has yet to be determined, he probably would be destined for a more prominent spot if Stephane Richer, who is in camp on a tryout, hadn't played so well to this point.
Still, Morozov isn't bitter about having a guy like Richer materialize on the depth chart -- "It makes me work harder" -- and seems to be forging an effective partnership with center Milan Kraft on what looks to be a third line.
"He can make some great passes and score goals," Morozov said. "I hope we get to play together. I like to play with him."
Even if that doesn't happen, Morozov probably doesn't have to worry about being shoved into an insignificant role when the regular season begins Oct. 3. Not after the way things played out when the Penguins tried that a year ago.
"He's playing well," Patrick said. "I think it's to his credit that
he's having another great camp. This year, hopefully, he'll keep that momentum