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Before the Ducks released him, Ilya Bryzgalov's future in Anaheim was as nothing more than a backup to stalwart goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
He means much more to the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Coyotes will look to make it back-to-back victories to open the season when they face Bryzgalov's former team on Sunday, with the Ducks seeking their first victory of 2008-09 in their home opener.
Bryzgalov was a reliable backup for the Ducks, where he played his first three full NHL seasons before Anaheim waived him last November. But Phoenix scooped him up and, two months later, signed him to a three-year contract extension.
He started 55 games for the Coyotes last season, going 26-22-5 with a 2.43 goals-against average, and was outstanding in Phoenix's season opener on Saturday, making 28 saves in a 3-1 home win over Columbus.
Bryzgalov also played well against the Ducks last season, going 3-1-1 with a 2.07 GAA in five starts - with all three victories coming in shootouts. Phoenix went 5-2-1 overall against its Pacific Division rivals last season, with the three shootout wins and another victory in overtime.
The Coyotes are hoping Bryzgalov can lead them to the playoffs this season for the first time since 2001-02, but they'll also likely need more offensive production. They saw positive signs on Saturday, as Olli Jokinen - acquired in an offseason trade with Florida - scored the team's first goal less than seven minutes into the game, then assisted on Peter Mueller's game-winner later in the first period.
Kyle Turris, a 19-year-old who was the No. 3 overall pick in 2007, assisted on Jokinen's goal, earning his second NHL point.
"We came out flying," Jokinen said. "We had a lot of energy out there. A lot of guys were playing their first game, and almost the whole first period was good hockey for us."
The Ducks' opener didn't go quite as well. They took five penalties in the second period of a 4-1 loss to San Jose on Thursday, getting outshot 21-3 in that period and falling behind for good.
Anaheim has led the league in penalty minutes each of the past two seasons, logging more than 1,400 minutes in the box each campaign.
"We like to play on the edge, and I love that we play that way," said Giguere, who made 37 saves. "At the same time, we need to keep our mouths shut and stop yapping at the officials. They're not all bad calls. We have to take it upon ourselves to be more disciplined."
The Ducks are hoping to improve on last season's start, when they came off a Stanley Cup title by going 4-7-2 in their first 13 games. That was without Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne, who were both mulling retirement at the time, but this season, they have both in the fold to start the campaign.
Perhaps a return home will spark Anaheim's offense. The Ducks were outstanding at Honda Center last season, going 28-9-4 at home en route to their third consecutive playoff berth.
"It will be nice to play in front of our home fans and get back to our rink," Kunitz told his team's official Web site. "We have to get our game going, turn the corner, and start playing a little better."
The game is the first of four straight on the road for Phoenix, which went 21-17-3 outside of Arizona last season.