EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- With the hockey world watching, the
first-round draft pick lived up to all of his expectations and more
with a goal and two points in his first NHL game.
Sidney Crosby, it wasn't.
Zach Parise, New Jersey's first-round draft pick in 2003, scored
a power-play goal and assisted on one of Brian Gionta's two goals
in an outstanding debut that led the New Jersey Devils to a 5-1
victory over Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night.
Sergei Brylin also scored twice for New Jersey.
Crosby, the NHL's most-awaited rookie in a generation and the
18-year-old poster child of the new-look league on its first
opening night in two years, had one assist in a long-awaited
unveiling game that drew as much attention in his native Canada as
a Stanley Cup final.
The Penguins, the NHL's worst team when the league last played
in 2003-04, sank millions into a dramatic offseason reshaping after
lucking out and winning the draft lottery, then choosing Crosby.
His Canadian junior career paralleled that of stars such as
Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky and Guy Lafleur, and more than 200
out-of-town media members showed up to watch his debut.
Crosby not only couldn't match Lemieux's feat of scoring on the
first shot of the first shift of his career, he didn't get a goal.
His lone assist, on Mark Recchi's power-play goal in the third,
didn't come until New Jersey was up by four goals.
Immediately afterward, the poised and mature-for-his-years
Crosby allowed himself a moment worthy of a teenager, staring
intently at the scoreboard to watch for the replay after he
returned to the bench. At least his mother, father and younger
sister will have one memory to take back with them to Cole Harbour,
Nova Scotia, after attending the game Crosby said he has waited to
play since he first began playing at age 3.
And while the game would have sold out any Canadian arena from
Vancouver to Cole Harbour, it was a surprisingly less-than-full
house of 18,101 at Continental Airlines Arena, rather than the
listed capacity of 19,040.
Other than Crosby's point, there wasn't much else for the
Penguins or Crosby to watch on a night Pittsburgh probably had a
hard time believing longtime Devils defensive stars Scott Stevens
(retired) and Scott Niedermayer (signed with Anaheim) are no longer
with the team.
The game resembled most Penguins-Devils games of recent vintage,
with the Penguins working tirelessly to get shots on Martin Brodeur
but never getting one past him, and the Devils repeatedly taking
advantage of Pittsburgh mistakes. Brodeur was as superb in ever in
goal, turning aside 36 shots.
The Penguins went 1-for-11 on the power play, even with Hall of
Famer Lemieux getting plenty of ice time on his 40th birthday and
teaming at times with Crosby. They twice couldn't score with
two-man advantages, one of 1:18 in the first period and the second
of 1:21 in the third.
Pittsburgh seemed to have the puck nearly every second of the
opening 8 minutes, going 0-for-4 on the power play during that
stretch, yet it was Brylin who got the first goal by backhanding a
rebound of Dan McGillis' shot from the left point past new Penguins
goalie Jocelyn Thibault.
Parise drew the biggest crowd reaction of the night by making it
2-0 with a power-play goal at 19:25 of the second, scoring off
Late in the second, Gionta stole the puck from defenseman Brooks
Orpik in the Penguins zone and skated in to beat Thibault
unassisted. About then, the crowd started chanting, "overrated" --
a swipe not just at Crosby but well-known Penguins teammates such
as Recchi, John LeClair and Sergei Gonchar.