DALLAS - It certainly wasn't the homecoming Mike Modano had envisioned.
While the 18,532 fans who packed the American Airlines Center for the Dallas Stars' home opener gave the player most responsible for putting professional hockey on the map in Texas the tribute he deserved, they also saluted their own team after the Stars improved to 3-0-0 with a 4-1 victory over Modano and the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night.
Modano, who spend the previous 20 seasons with the Stars franchise before signing a free-agent contract with Detroit this summer, was grateful to the Dallas fans but dissatisfied with the result.
"It was a tough night because they got off to a really good first (period) and we were playing catch-up from there," Modano said. "It was an uphill battle and (Dallas goaltender Kari) Lehtonen made some good saves."
Lehtonen, acquired by Dallas from Atlanta in exchange for defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy and a 2010 fourth-round draft pick late last season, was nearly flawless in a 25-save performance. He was 8:35 away from his first shutout as a member of the Stars before Detroit's Niklas Kronwall scored a power-play goal.
The Stars are a team in transition and opted not to offer the 40-year-old Modano a contract last summer.
"There's been some major change (in Dallas) the last two or three (years) with the ownership, general manager and coach and there's a lot of transition," Modano said. "You just hope the fans will be patient because it is a great market. But they have a loyal fan base here."
Those fans proved how loyal they are to those who sacrifice -- in Modano's case, two decades -- to helping promote the game and building a winner.
"There's a lot of history, and I had a lot of great experiences in Dallas," he said. "It was nice to see and I'm glad the game was early so we got it over with. I think everyone was kind of thinking about it so the last thing you want to be is a bit of a distraction. But it's over and we can put it behind us.
"My former teammates were good and it was nice to see them … I'll be watching to see how they're doing."
Modano, who opened the game centering for Jiri Hudler and Dan Cleary, received a standing ovation 6:48 into the first after the message "Thank you, Mike" appeared on the center ice scoreboard during the first TV timeout. It was then the fans stood and applauded for approximately 45 seconds to show their appreciation of their former captain.
"During the ovation, there was just a world of emotions, memories, thoughts and experiences I've gone through here," said Modano, who played 15:14 and went without a point for the third game in a row. "A lot of special things have happened along the way. Being involved with the game from the ground floor, promoting the game here in Texas and Dallas was certainly first and foremost. Winning and the type of teams we had here in the past. It's a great arena and fun to play in -- it always has been."
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, while disappointed after his first regulation loss, was glad Modano received his due.
"I thought it was important," Babcock said. "He earned that over a lot of years and obviously this probably was a tough game for him to play, no question about it. There were mixed emotions and I'm sure he would have liked his team to do better. But it's over with now and he can get on with being a Red Wing."
Dallas' top line of Brad Richards between James Neal and Eriksson did most of the damage.
The Stars took a 1-0 lead just 41 seconds into the game when Richards took a power-play slapper from the left point that beat Chris Osgood to the long side through a screen. It was Richards' second of the season and his fourth career goal against the Wings.
Dallas made it 2-0 when Richards skated behind the Detroit net to set up Eriksson from the slot 44 seconds into the second.
Morrow extended the lead to 3-0 at 7:03 when his attempted give-and-go with Mike Ribeiro deflected off the skate of Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart in the crease and past Osgood. Neal made it 4-0 on a neatly-placed backhand through a screen at 16:26.
Despite the loss, Babcock wasn't terribly displeased with his team's play.
"We did a lot of good things and gave up only 15 shots on the road but I don't think we mounted enough of a sustained attack," Babcock said. "I thought Lehtonen was really good."
In his three victories this season, Lehtonen sports a .922 save percentage and 2.58 goals-against average. With the victory, the Stars are now 9-0-3 in their last 12 home openers and own a 7-2-0 mark against Detroit since 2008-09.
Franzen spoke to the media following the game and admitted Fistric's hit is what sidelined him the remainder of the contest. Babcock wouldn't speculate on his player's condition.
"We'll let the doctors diagnose it and not him," he said.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
|PPG - Brad Richards (2) ASST: Matt Niskanen (1), Mike Ribeiro (4)|
1 - 0 DAL
|Loui Eriksson (3) ASST: Brad Richards (4), James Neal (3)|
2 - 0 DAL
|Brenden Morrow (4) ASST: Mike Ribeiro (5)|
3 - 0 DAL
|James Neal (1) ASST: Brad Richards (5), Trevor Daley (2)|
4 - 0 DAL
|PPG - Niklas Kronwall (1) ASST: Todd Bertuzzi (5), Jiri Hudler (2)|
4 - 1 DAL
|Brad Stuart Boarding against Brenden Morrow|
|Johan Franzen Interference against Trevor Daley|
|James Neal Hi-sticking against Darren Helm|
|James Neal Tripping against Daniel Cleary|
|Brandon Segal Slashing against Jiri Hudler|
|Karlis Skrastins Hooking against Drew Miller|
|Ruslan Salei Interference against Steve Ott|
|Brad Richards Slashing against Daniel Cleary|