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Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New Jersey Devils @NHL
Penguins-Devils Preview

GAME: Pittsburgh Penguins (23-47-8-4) at New Jersey Devils (43-25-12-2).

TIME: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. EDT.

All 30 NHL teams will be on the ice Wednesday, but most eyes will be on one player: Sidney Crosby.

One of the most heralded players to ever enter the league, the 18-year-old center makes his NHL debut as the retooled Pittsburgh Penguins open the season against the New Jersey Devils.

Although he hasn't played a game yet, Crosby is already being touted as the next Mario Lemieux or even the next Wayne Gretzky, based on his incredible numbers in juniors and reports from scouts.

"He's going to be a superstar in this league," teammate John LeClair said, making up his mind after a single training camp practice alongside Crosby.

Crosby, who gave his first newspaper interview at the age of 7, has compiled quite a resume. He had 66 goals and 102 assists in 62 games in juniors last season after totaling 54 goals and 81 assists in 59 games the previous year. In both seasons, he was named the Canadian major junior player of the year.

Some scouts think Crosby already is the best skater and passer in the league, even if they don't yet have a regular-season game to judge him by. Because of his speed and exceptional playmaking ability, it took him just one practice to mesh with LeClair and Mark Recchi, the two high-scoring ex-Flyers who will open the season alongside him on the Penguins' No. 1 line.

How's that for impact: Crosby already has pushed Lemieux, one of the sport's greatest players, to the No. 2 line.

"I'm not trying to be the next Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux," Crosby said. "I am putting pressure on myself to do my best and perform to my potential - that's all I can do."

Lemieux, who turns 40 on Wednesday, will take the ice with a considerably upgraded team from the 2003-04 pre-lockout squad that managed a league-low 58 points.

Besides LeClair and Recchi, the Penguins added All-Star defenseman Sergei Gonchar, forward Ziggy Palffy and goalie Jocelyn Thibault during a whirlwind rebuilding project.

"Getting Sidney allowed us to go out and get Gonchar right off the bat, and I think that was a key signing for us," Lemieux said. "Once we did that, the players realized we wanted to put a great team on ice and that gave an opportunity to go after Palffy and all the other guys."

The Devils, meanwhile, return from the lockout with drastic changes of their own, particularly the losses of captain Scott Stevens and defenseman Scott Niedermayer.

For the first time since the end of the 1990-91 season, neither will be on the roster as Stevens retired because of a concussion and Niedermayer left for Anaheim.

"It's a different era," goalie Martin Brodeur said. "Both Scotties were a big part of the success of the Devils. We'd all been here for 12 or 13 years and now there is a big change. It will be tough on the ice. Those were two guys who logged a lot of minutes and played really well for us."

Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, though, said he isn't worried about his team's defense.

Pointing to the offseason acquisitions of Vladimir Malakhov and Dan McGillis, Lamoriello said the Devils' defense "is better than it was last year," referring to the 2003-04 season when the Devils finished second in the Atlantic Division and lost in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals to Philadelphia.

On offense, the Devils brought back Alexander Mogilny, the right winger who earned a Stanley Cup ring with New Jersey.

Mogilny came to the Devils late in the 1999-00 season and helped New Jersey to its second championship with four goals and three assists in the playoffs.

Signing Mogilny pushed the Devils over the salary cap, forcing them to trade speedy winger Jeff Friesen to the Washington Capitals for a draft pick. In 2003-04, Friesen had 17 goals and 20 assists in 81 games for the Devils.

This season also marks Larry Robinson's second tour as Devils coach. The Hall of Fame defenseman replaced Robbie Ftorek with eight games remaining in the 1999-00 season and guided the team to the Cup. He was fired when the New Jersey struggled in 2001-02, but remained with the organization as a special assignment coach and assistant coach.

Robinson was named in July to replace Pat Burns, who has been diagnosed with cancer for the second time in a little more than a year.

Under Burns, the Devils won the Stanley Cup in 2003, defeating Anaheim in seven games.

The Devils also will start the regular season without left wing Patrik Elias, who contracted hepatitis A in the spring when he was playing in Europe during the lockout.

Elias, who led the Devils in scoring in 2003-04, is expected to miss at least the first 10 games.

2003-04 STANDINGS: Penguins - 58 points, 5th place, 43 PB, Atlantic Division. Devils - 100 points, 2nd place, 1 PB, Atlantic Division.

2003-04 TEAM LEADERS: Penguins - Ryan Malone, 22 goals; Dick Tarnstrom, 36 assists and 52 points; Brooks Orpik, 127 PIM. Devils - Elias, 38 goals and 81 points; Scott Gomez, 56 assists; Colin White, 96 PIM.

2003-04 SPECIAL TEAMS: Penguins - Power play: 18.0 percent (65 for 360), 7th (tied) in NHL. Penalty killing: 77.2 percent (285 for 369), 30th. Devils - Power play: 16.3 percent (51 for 312), 15th. Penalty killing: 85.3 percent (227 for 266), 6th (tied).

2003-04 GOALTENDERS: Penguins - Sebastien Caron (9-24-5, 1 SO, 3.74 GAA); Jean-Sebastien Aubin (7-9-0, 1, 2.98). Devils - Brodeur (38-26-11, 11, 2.03); Scott Clemmensen (3-1-0, 2, 1.01).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Devils, 4-1.

LAST MEETING: March 17, 2004; Devils, 6-1. At East Rutherford, N.J., Clemmensen made 14 saves in his third career start, and the Devils' line of Friesen, Sergei Brylin and Viktor Kozlov combined for three goals and 11 points.

2003-04 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Penguins - 10-25-2-4 on the road; Devils - 22-13-5-1 at home.

Associated Press
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