The season started with a bang in New Jersey last night. Sidney Crosby got his first taste of NHL action, the new look Pittsburgh offense made it’s debut, and New Jersey’s new defense was showcased as well. Here’s what I thought of the game:
This team can put some pressure on the net! The first half of the first period was spent on the Pittsburgh powerplay, and the puck rarely came out of the zone. Mario was his usual patient, all-seeing, brilliant self. Sidney, in his first NHL game, was surprisingly composed and alert. If any other goaltender in the world was in net, he would have had at least two goals. He did manage to finish the night with an assist on the Pens lone goal, but on this night his former high school teammate, Zach Parise of the Devils, would be the more impressive rookie.
Goaltending looked like an issue for Pittsburgh. Thibault was just average in net… he never seemed to settle down. Maybe it was opening night jitters, or maybe he was nervous because he was playing for a new team, but he didn’t look very good. His performance makes me wonder what Eddie Olzcyk plans on doing with Marc-Andre Fleury.
This team definitely is not the Devils of old. The absense of Stevens and Niedermayer was glaringly obvious. Matvichuk struggled to finish hits… Crosby slithered away from him a few times. McGillis was absolutely atrocious on the point during powerplays. But the bright spots for this crew are their puck-movers. Rafalski looks like captain material out there… his presence is dominant, especially considering his diminutive stature (5’9″, 191 lbs.). Malakhov, although slow on his feet, looked better than ever with the puck. Paul Martin continues to grow in his game and will one day be a top defenseman.
To anyone who watched the game, the star was obvious. Marty Brodeur stood on his head and made the Penguins shake theirs on too many occasions to count. Also, with the two-line pass rule gone, he set up his teammates several times with tape-to-tape passes that some NHL defensemen aren’t even capable of making. If he continues to play like this, the Devils are a very legitimate threat for the Stanley Cup.
Finally, there was one more big difference between the new Devils and the old Devils… they didn’t sit on their lead. In seasons past, the Devs used to trap their way to victory whenever they’d get an early lead. This team, however, under Larry Robinson’s guidance was aggressive to the end. Their five-goal output was evidence of this.
I did get to see bits and pieces of other games, thanks to the Center Ice digital cable package. I remember turning on the Leafs-Senators game and being amazed by the flow. The teams seemed to go back and forth nonstop creating big plays and opportunities at every turn… very exciting game. The Rangers victory over the Flyers took a lot of people by surprise. It seemed to me that the Rangers were outworking the Flyers down low… something New York hasn’t been known for since the mid-90s. Forsberg was great, though, and as soon as Hatcher comes back Philly should be OK.
The general impression I got was that teams are still struggling with the new penalties. I hope referees start calling diving more often because I saw a lot of innocent players sent to the box as the result of Oscar-worthy acting performances. I also saw a lot of two-line passing. That one new rule is having a major impact on the game and I, for one, am happy to see it. The new goalie restrictions on where the puck can be played just seemed silly. Skilled goalies just retrieve the puck before it crosses the goal line, and stay-at-home netminders just continue to play the puck the way they always have. Hopefully this rule will have a shorter life span than the ill-fated crease rule.