- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

His first NHL goal came 12 years ago against New Jersey's Chris Terreri, who seems to have been in net when a lot of guys scored their first goals in the league.

Two Stanley Cup rings, an Olympic gold medal and a World Championship later, Jaromir Jagr has the opportunity tonight to record his 500th goal. If he pulls it off, it will come against the team with which he has had his biggest victories.

The Washington Capitals play the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight, but not owner and leading scorer Mario Lemieux. The center has missed seven straight games and nine of 10 with a groin injury; in the one game he appeared, Jan. 13 against Boston, he lasted about four minutes before pulling himself out.

Lemieux has also said he will not appear in Sunday's All-Star event in Sunrise, Fla., where he was to be one of the starters as the leading vote-getter for the Eastern Conference.

"It's a great honor, I wish I could have been there for [the fans]," he told a Pittsburgh reporter.

Lemieux skated three times this week and said he was "pain-free." However, he also said he did not want to risk anything; the last 30 games of the season were more important with his team struggling and not in the playoff picture now.

"I felt great but I think it's wise to not jump in there [tomorrow]," he said. "I have to make sure this time. I've been patient long enough now. I feel like I'm almost ready to get back in the action. … I want to make sure I'm back to 100 percent."

Lemieux has played 41 games this season and leads the league in scoring with 68 points (20 goals and 48 assists). Jagr has played 10 more games but trails Lemieux by 10 points with 27 goals and 28 assists. Jagr was in eighth place in the scoring race before last night's games.

The chances of Jagr reaching 500 goals are not excellent because scoring in bunches is not his forte. This is his 13th season in the league and he has only 10 three-goal hat tricks, one of them this season.

Jagr scored his 497th career goal Tuesday night during a 5-3 loss to St. Louis. When he hits 500, he will be 12th among active players in goal-scoring and 33rd on the all-time list. He is currently in 34th, one goal behind Glenn Anderson. He has scored 58 goals in less than two seasons with the Caps.

Meanwhile, all the Caps practiced yesterday except for defenseman Sergei Gonchar, out with what was described as a slight case of the flu. Among the ailing on the ice were left wing Steve Konowalchuk (groin) and right wing Alex Henry (flu), but no decision has been made on whether to bring one or both back from injured reserve. If the Caps elect to go that way, at least one player will have to be moved off the parent roster.

The Caps also expect to get defenseman J.F. Fortin back today from a two-week conditioning stint with the Portland (Maine) Pirates.

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