No. 66 Lemieux, at age 40, plays like he is 18
Mario Lemieux was on his home turf for the first time in nearly two years.
PITTSBURGH (AP -- The crowd came to see Sidney Crosby's first home game in a Pittsburgh uniform. Instead, they got to see a show by the old man instead.
Mario Lemieux, who turns 40 next week and is more than twice as old as the Penguins' most prized prospect since No. 66 himself, played as though he was 18 again with a goal and three assists Tuesday night in a 7-2 exhibition victory over the flu-weakened Columbus Blue Jackets.
Lemieux was on his home ice for the first time since a hip injury on Nov. 1, 2003, against Boston sidelined him for the rest of what was the NHL's last season until now.
For at least a night, if was almost as if Lemieux had never gone through yet another long interruption in a career dotted with long injury layoffs, a full season off in the mid-1990s and a 44-month retirement.
The Ryan Malone-Lemieux-Ziggy Palffy line, or some form of it, was on the ice for all but one Penguins goal against goalie Martin Prusek, who was pulled after Lasse Pirjeta's goal at 12:23 of the second made it 6-1. Prusek allowed goals on six of the 19 shots he faced, two by Malone.
Lemieux scored his first goal since Oct. 11, 2003, though it won't add to his career total of 683, when he jammed the puck over Prusek's right shoulder in the first period to put Pittsburgh up 2-0.
Lemieux's most artistic point came as he skated out of the penalty box early in the second period after being off for a high-sticking penalty. He took a breakout pass to start a three-man rush, kept control of the puck while almost jumping over defenseman Duvie Westcott along the boards and fed into the crease for Maxime Talbot's goal.
Lemieux also scored the only goal during the league-mandated shootout, just after Crosby was turned aside.
Crosby, the No. 1 draft pick who is the NHL's most awaited rookie since the Wayne Gretzky and Lemieux days, had a rather pedestrian home debut, though he set up Mark Recchi's goal in the closing minutes. Crosby took a big hit in front of the net but, despite being upended, got the puck to the left side of the net to Recchi.
Until then, the Crosby-Recchi-John LeClair line never did find the groove it had during a preseason game Saturday when Crosby scored his first preseason goal. Crosby didn't score during the league-mandated shootout.
There were plenty of No. 87 Crosby jerseys and T-shirts in the crowd of 12,669, about twice the size of those during the three seasons from 2001-04 when the Penguins missed the playoffs each season. There also were cheers nearly every time he touched the puck, though the crowd was quieter than for regular season games.
The Blue Jackets dressed 18 skaters, the same as the Penguins, or two more than they did Sunday night in Chicago amid a nearly team-wide flu epidemic. So many players became ill, the team closed its locker room Monday so it could be disinfected.