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Devils bring out best in Morozov // Star-Ledger
BY STEVE POLITI
PITTSBURGH -- Aleksey Morozov has no problem scoring goals against the Devils. It is the other 28 teams in the league that give him trouble.
This simple fact is a source of much amusement and curiosity in the Pittsburgh Penguins locker room. Even the veterans admit they have never come across a player who is so good against one team and so average against everybody else.
"He could pretty much take the whole year off and just score against the Devils," teammate Kevin Stevens said. "It's quite amazing, actually. Some guys do great against certain teams, but they usually do great against other teams, too. He's pretty much keyed himself on the Devils."
In Game 2 on Tuesday night, the 24-year-old right wing scored his 10th career goal against the Devils to key a 4-2 victory for Pittsburgh. It was his third career playoff goal, with two coming against the Devils.
In 277 regular-season games, he has 39 goals -- including eight, or more than 20 percent of his career output, in just 19 meetings against the Devils.
Do the math. That leaves 31 goals in his other 258 regular-season games, which is hardly a torrid pace.
"The Devils ... that is Aleksey's team," forward Martin Straka said. "That's the way it is. He's been awesome against them. Every time he plays against the Devils, he finds the scoring touch. I don't know how many goals he has against them, but it works against them."
Why he is so effective against them is somewhat of a mystery. This isn't the Islanders we're talking about. This is the best team in hockey, the defending Stanley Cup champions, a team that prides itself on tough defense in front of an All-Star goalie.
The Devils, of course, don't do anything special to stop Morozov. Focusing their attentions on center Mario Lemieux and right wing Jaromir Jagr helps free up opportunities for other players, but that doesn't explain why Morozov -- and not Straka or Milan Kraft or Josef Beranek -- has made a career out of killing the Devils.
"It's a really good team, and you always have to work hard to beat them," Morozov said. "I don't know why it is that I do well. They play hard. I like their style, and I've always had fun playing against them. That's all I can say."
The Penguins, dazzled by his offensive ability and potential, selected Morozov with their first-round pick in the 1995 entry draft. He struggled to find a regular spot in the Penguins' lineup since arriving in Pittsburgh, which general manager Craig Patrick partly blames on "adjusting to life in North America and hockey in the NHL.
"Near the end of the season he started playing well and it's carried on into the playoffs," Patrick said. "He's a high-skilled guy with a nose for the net. His greatest asset is his goal scoring."
Another Russian player with success against the Devils, right wing Alexei Kovalev, has helped Morozov make the transition. Kovalev and Morozov room together on the road, and Morozov often turns to his 28-year-old teammate for advice.
"He has a lot of talent," Kovalev said. "He has to believe he's talented.
He just has to believe in himself, and that's what's happening now. He's
playing great hockey. They gave him a chance to play during the playoffs
and he's proved he can be a great player."
"I just hope he's got a few more left in him, I'll tell you that much,"
Stevens said. "We're going to need him."