It may have been Sidney Crosby
’s debut in Pittsburgh, but Mario Lemieux stole the show.
Lemieux racked up four points to propel the Penguins to a 7-2 drubbing of the Columbus Blue Jackets at Mellon Arena on Tuesday night.
It was the Mellon Arena debut for the 18-year-old Crosby, hailed by many as the best prospect since Lemieux came into the league in 1984. However, Lemieux provided the show for the hometown fans.
“I didn’t mean to,” said Lemieux with a laugh. “It was just one of those games where I got a couple breaks and I took advantage of them.
“We needed to come out and play well and get a win. I thought Sidney played pretty well for his first game,” he continued. “I thought he was pretty nervous. It’s always tough for a young kid to start his career at home. I think he’ll be all right.”
Crosby was in awe of Lemieux – his teammate and landlord.
“He did a great job. It’s unbelievable just to watch him,” Crosby said. “ It’s so fun for me and the rest of the guys to see him out there still making great plays. He’s a treat to watch and tonight he proved why he’s the best.”
Crosby did pick up an assist, however, as he helped on Mark Recchi’s third-period goal.
“The start, I had a little bit of anxiousness since it was the first game at home,” he said. “Once I got out there, I felt pretty good.”
It was the first professional hockey game at Mellon Arena since the Penguins’ 4-3 win over Washington on April 4, 2004.
“It’s been a while,” Lemieux said. “It’s always nice to play in this building. I think it’s going to be exciting this year.”
Crosby was thrilled to play in front of his home fans, who gave him a warm welcome.
“They were great,” he said. “It was great to play in front of them and I look forward to many more.”
It was the first win of the preseason for the Penguins (1-3-2).
“That was important to get a win,” Lemieux said. “I thought we played a little bit better tonight – a lot more discipline. We didn’t take that many penalties early in the game and that gave us the chance to get out on top.”
Ric Jackman got the Penguins on the scoreboard first 9:07 into the contest when he collected a power-play goal. He took Lemieux’s cross-ice pass and one-timed it past Columbus goalie Martin Prusek.
Lemieux scored his first goal of the preseason 6:48 later. Streaking down the left wing on a 2-on-1, he took Ziggy Palffy’s pass from the right wing and zipped it into the goal for a 2-0 edge.
Ryan Malone pushed the Penguins’ lead to 3-0 when he scored a short-handed goal. Rico Fata stole the puck off a Columbus defender and fed it to Malone, who buried the puck from the top of the near face-off circle 3:32 into the period.
Columbus got the goal back 24 seconds later when Jaroslav Balastik scored a power-play goal to make the score 3-1.
Pittsburgh retaliated. On a 3-on-1, Maxime Talbot streaked down the middle of the ice and took a pass from Lemieux on the right wing. Talbot slammed the puck into the net for a 4-1 edge.
Lemieux’s fourth point came on Malone’s second goal of the night. Lemieux backhanded a pass to Malone in the slot. He rifled a wrist shot past Prusek for a 5-1 lead.
Lasse Pirjeta pushed Pittsburgh’s lead to 6-1 with 7:37 remaining in the second period. Pirjeta saw a loose puck in front of the crease, dove and put the puck in the net, losing his helmet in the process.
Columbus changed goalies after Pirjeta’s goal. Tomas Popperle replaced Prusek between the pipes.
Recchi gave the Penguins a 7-1 lead before Gilbert Brule scored for the Blue Jackets late in the third.
Pittsburgh travels to Ottawa on Thursday and to Washington on Friday before the Penguins return home to wrap up the preseason Sunday against Washington.