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Crosby? Lemieux? Gionta and the Devils Steal the Show on Opening Night

Crosby? Lemieux? Gionta and the

Devils Steal the Show on Opening Night

By Zach Shevich

In hockey’s return, the world was watching as rookie sensation Sidney “The Next Gretzky” Crosby and the biggest legend still in the league, Mario Lemieux, played with their Pittsburgh Penguins on the road for an opening night match against the New Jersey Devils. Unfortunately for the NHL, in the highlight of the fifteen games played on opening night, October 5th, 2005, was another rookie, Devils’ Zach Parise, and the rest of the New Jersey Devils. Despite not looking it, 18,101 fans showed up to nearly fill Continental Airlines Arena, which only holds 19,040, and the atmosphere was electric. “Welcome Back” caps were handed out before the game, and the Devils’ mascot repelled from the ceiling, Spider-Man style, followed by more contests and intermission games to entertain. The result was one of the more exiting Devils games in some time.

Last season, the Penguins had finished in last place, but drafting Crosby, returning Mario Lemieux, and going on a signing spree with names like Marc Recchi, Sergei Gonchar, and John LeClair, they have become a dark horse pick to get some success this year. The Devils entered the game having what many considered to be one of the worst off-seasons out of any team, in which they lost captain Scott Stevens and Coach Pat Burns, who was diagnosed with cancer, to retirement. Along with Stevens, the Devils lost another key defenseman, Scott Niedermayer, who is widely considered the best offensive defenseman in the league. They will start at least the first ten games of the season without the newly named captain Patrick Elias, who is out with Hepatitis A.

On the first night of post-lockout hockey, the new rules were immediately experienced, with the Devils getting the raw end of them. Stricter rules on hooking, holding, and interference obstructions caused the Devils to draw four of their eleven two-minute penalties in the first 6:34. It was goaltender Martin Brodeur who bailed out the Devils early. With players in the penalty box, Jersey found themselves on the defensive end of the ice down by one or two men at a time while the Penguins pounded fourteen shots on net in the first seven minutes. One series saw Brodeur making a save, diving to his left to make another, losing his stick, then sticking his chest out to block an incoming slap-shot before pouncing to cover the puck. However, when the Devils finally killed off their penalties, they were able to start the attack, and with 3:05 left in the first period, Sergei “Sarge” Brylin found a loose puck to the goalie’s left and top-cornered it to put the Devils up 1-0. 2:30 later, it was Devils’ rookie Zach Parise notching his first NHL goal in his first NHL game of a similar loose puck. Brian Gionta, who got an assist on Parise’s goal, scored a goal in the second and third period, to end the night as the 1st Star with two goals and an assist. His second goal gave Zach Parise his first career assist and would go on to become the game’s 3rd star as Devils took a commanding 4-0 with less than 17 minutes remaining in the third and final period. Two minutes later, off-season acquisition, Marc Recchi scored off an assist from the 18-year-old Sidney Crosby, but it was too little too late. The Devils would add insult to injury off a screaming shot by Sergei Brylin, to get his second on the night. The most unbelievable performance was that of Jersey net-minder Martin Brodeur, whose 36 saves on 37 shots earned him the 2nd star honor and has him in a tie with Jean-Sebastian Giguere for the league lead in saves after one game. The often vocal Devil fans mocked Pens goaltender Jocelyn Thibault by chanting his name, and mocked Crosby, who totaled three shots on goal in his 15:50 of play, by chanting “Ov-er-ra-ted!” and “Pari-se’s-Bett-er!” late in the third period. In Sidney Crosby’s misfortune, his first N.H.L. game was against the man who many believe is the best goaltender In the world right now. After it all, the Devils walked away one of the biggest winners on opening night with a 5-1 showing at home, with the fans rising on each goal to pound their firsts in the air while singing and clapping along to the popular sports anthem “Hey!”

Other notable performances included that of the local New York Rangers, who traveled to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers, who many had predicted to go to the Finals this year. Up 3-1 late in the second period, the Flyers let a goal by Jamie Lundmark in and then in the third, two power-play goals by Jaromir Jagr and one more by Hossa gave the Rangers their first win, finishing the comeback 5-3.

The New York Islanders were the only of local teams to lose, losing 6-4 to the Buffalo Sabers in the highest scoring opening night game.

The Ottawa Senators became the first to win with the new shootout after tied games rule, beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2.

The team who has been most buzz about winning it all this year, the Calgary Flames, perished 6-3 in Minnesota versus the Wild. In the game, Marc Chouinard became the first player this season with a hat-trick.

The Tampa Bay Lightning began the defense of Lord Stanley’s Cup with a 5-2 victory at home.

Wayne Gretzky began his coaching career off with a 3-2 loss at Vancouver, who’s star player Todd Bertuzzi returned to the ice after being suspended for an entire season following the March 2004 incident where he drove Colorado’s Steve Moore to the ice, breaking Moore’s neck. Bertuzzi registered an assist on the night.

Overall, today was an exciting opening night for hockey in which all 30 teams played in 15 different games. Already, elements of parody can be seen and those who are weak may not survive long with such reward to teams who know how to score. Long live this year of hockey.

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