Team says star's condition hasn't worsened


PITTSBURGH -- Mario Lemieux's hip injury has not worsened, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Craig Patrick said Wednesday night.

Patrick called the left hip flexor "only a temporary setback" and said it was not like the more severe right hip injury that forced Lemieux to miss three-quarters of the 2001-02 season.

Lemieux admittedly returned too soon after injuring his hip during an exhibition game in September 2002 and wound up fighting the injury for months. After receiving several painkilling injections to get him through the Olympics, he played only one more game with Pittsburgh before cutting short his season in late February.

This time, Lemieux has taken the ice only twice since getting hurt Nov. 1 against Boston. He skated in practice three days later but has since remained sidelined except for a six-minute trial at a Nov. 10 practice.

"But he's stayed on his [conditioning] program," Patrick said.

Lemieux has not talked with reporters about his condition for more than three weeks, leaving Patrick and coach Eddie Olczyk to field repeated questions about his status.

After spending several weeks saying Lemieux was likely to return in a few games, the Penguins decided earlier this week that they would no longer speculate when the Hall of Famer would return.

"He's intent on coming back," Patrick said. "We're not going to make the mistakes we made [two years ago]. We made a mistake initially when he tried to play through it ... but we're not going to make mistakes now."

Lemieux, 38, has given no sign that the injury might end his season or his career. He worked harder on his preseason conditioning than at any previous time, and he has talked of playing past this season if he stays healthy.

He was one of the NHL's top scorers before getting hurt, getting at least one point in eight consecutive games after being shut out in the Penguins' season opener. He has one goal and eight assists in 10 games.

Lemieux played only 24 games in 2001-02, finishing with six goals and 25 assists in by far his worst NHL season. He rebounded last season with 28 goals and 63 assists in 67 games.