EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Sidney Crosby has dominated at every level of hockey he's played. On Wednesday night, the night of his life, he wasn't even the best rookie on the ice.
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 Devils to a 5-1 victory over Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins.
Sergei Brylin also scored twice for New Jersey, which upstaged Crosby's long-awaited but not very satisfying opening night by winning the same way it almost always does. Namely, with Martin Brodeur playing exceptionally well in net.
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. He wasn't happy with the result, but felt he wasn't out of place.
The goals, he and his teammates are convinced, are going to come. And soon. And often.
"The kid's going to be a great player in this league for a long time," said Mario Lemieux, who besides being the Penguins' owner and captain is now Crosby's mentor. "I thought he played well and didn't look out of place at all."
Crosby felt the same way, saying he didn't feel out of his element "for even one second." But one of the greatest goal scorers ever in Canadian junior hockey learned a valuable lesson: There aren't goalies like Brodeur in juniors.
Brodeur turned aside 36 shots, making several key saves during the opening eight minutes when Pittsburgh had four power plays one after the other.
"He was in playoff form the first game of the season," Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk said. "I don't know a higher compliment you can pay."
Larry Robinson, the coach of the 2000 Stanley Cup-winning Devils and now back behind the bench with 2003 Cup-winning coach Pat Burns ill, said his three-time Cup champion goalie was vintage Brodeur.
"They had tons of chances. Marty made some stops that I don't even know how he made them, and that's why he's the best," Robinson said.
Crosby got introduced to Brodeur in the game's first 80 seconds. Carrying the puck out from along the boards, Crosby put a backhander on Brodeur that the goalie smothered. So much for matching Lemieux's 1984 feat of scoring on the first shot of his first NHL shift.
"He made a great save," Crosby said. "All you can do is think, `Martin Brodeur just stopped you,' and shake your head a little bit."
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 Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky and Guy Lafleur, and more than 200 out-of-town media members showed up to watch his debut.
Crosby's 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.
"I felt comfortable out there," he said. "I think I created some things. ... and while it's nice to get the point, what you play for is to win."
And while the game would have sold out any Canadian arena from Vancouver to Crosby's hometown of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, 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 Brodeur but not getting many past him, and the Devils repeatedly taking advantage of Pittsburgh mistakes.
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.
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 Gionta's rebound.
"You want to get the first one out of the way," said Parise, the 17th overall pick in the 2003 draft. "It's awesome. It was kind of a blur, but it's also a weight off your shoulders."
Crosby can only hope he doesn't have a long wait for his first goal.
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 as Crosby but well-known Penguins teammates such as Recchi, John LeClair and Sergei Gonchar.
- Crosby first stepped on the ice at 7:01 p.m. to warm up but, perhaps because there were relatively few fans in the stands, didn't draw a big reaction.
- Crosby had three shots, one in each period, during 15:50 of ice time -- about 4½ minutes fewer than Lemieux.
- The Devils had more minutes of power play or penalty-killing time (just over 31 minutes) than even-strength time.