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Lemieux monitored overnight, won't play Thursday

PITTSBURGH -- Mario Lemieux has a new health problem.

The Pittsburgh Penguins owner-player was hospitalized Wednesday
for observation of an irregular heartbeat. Lemieux was monitored
overnight in an undisclosed hospital and won't play Thursday night
against the Minnesota Wild.

Mario Lemieux Lemieux

The team said the playing status of the Hall of Famer, who has
missed the equivalent of five full seasons due to illness or
injury, will be day to day. Team officials didn't immediately
return a call Thursday to update Lemieux's condition.

The 40-year-old Lemieux has had numerous medical problems since
his career began in 1984, including a bout with Hodgkin's disease
in 1993 that was partly responsible for him sitting out the 1994-95
season.

Lemieux also has been sidelined for long periods with back and
hip problems, and he missed two-thirds of the Penguins' 1990-91
Stanley Cup championship season with severe lower back pain. After
retiring for 3 years, he returned in December 2000 after buying
the Penguins and has played since, but missed large portions of the
2001-02 and 2003-04 seasons with hip injuries.

Penguins general manager Craig Patrick said Lemieux reported
having an irregular heartbeat after practice Wednesday.

"We thought the best precaution was to have him enter the
hospital for observation," Patrick said.

The 40-year-old Lemieux recently missed two games because of
what the team described as the stomach flu, but it was not
immediately known if an illness that lingered for several weeks was
related to his latest problem.

The NHL's No. 7 career scorer has seven goals and 14 assists for
21 points in 25 games this season, but recently had a four-game
streak without a point that was the longest of his career.

Last week, Lemieux missed a team practice so he could be
examined by a doctor. At the time, the team said the problem was
related to his flu bout.

"They kind of fit him in for a checkup," coach Eddie Olczyk
said on Nov. 30. "He said he was feeling fine, and just wanted to
make sure he's being looked after."

Lemieux played in Pittsburgh's last game, getting an assist on
Sidney Crosby's goal -- his first point in five games -- during a 3-2
loss Saturday to the Calgary Flames.

Lemieux, who captained Canada's 2002 Olympic gold medal team in
Salt Lake City even while playing with a badly injured hip, was to
meet with Team Canada general manager Wayne Gretzky on Saturday in
Pittsburgh. With Gretzky's Phoenix Coyotes on a six-day break until
Sunday, Gretzky is scouting possible members to play in the Turin
Olympics next February.

Earlier this season, Lemieux said he didn't want to be picked on
his name alone, and that Canada would be better off taking a player
such as the 18-year-old Crosby if Lemieux wasn't playing up to
Olympic caliber.

Lemieux got off to a relatively fast start despite being out for
nearly two years because of the hip injury and the NHL lockout, and
had three multiple-point games in his first 10 games. But he has
only one goal and two assists and is a minus-10 in his last 10
games.

For the season, Lemieux's minus-17 rating is the second-worst
mark in the NHL to teammate Mark Recchi's minus-19. By comparison,
Lemieux was a plus-55 while leading the NHL with 160 points during
his cancer-interrupted 1992-93 season, despite missing a month for
treatment.

Before this season began, Lemieux said he wanted to play a full
season uninterrupted by medical problems for the first time since
his second season in the league, 1985-86. But he has since said
that, at his age, it is probably wise to miss some games to avoid
getting worn down.

Lemieux is seventh in NHL career scoring with 1,722 points,
eight fewer than No. 6 Steve Yzerman of Detroit. Lemieux is eighth
in goals with 690.