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Plenty of firsts for rookie scorers

Friday, 10.17.2008 / 10:32 AM / Columns

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

Dallas rookie Fabian Brunnstrom's hat trick Wednesday -- in his first NHL game -- was something that had been done only twice in League history.

Alex Smart in 1943 and Real Cloutier in 1979 were the others. And, remember, that Cloutier, though an NHL rookie, had been a star in the World Hockey Association.

Brunnstrom's also part of a boom in scoring by this season's newcomers.

Through Oct. 15, the first full week of the new season, 15 players had already scored their first NHL goal -- including another Dallas rookie, James Neal, who also did it in his first NHL game, against Columbus on Oct. 10. Brunnstrom was scratched for that game and the one Saturday in Nashville.

In fact, Brunnstrom wasn't even the only newcomer to get his first goal in Dallas' 6-4 win against Nashville -- two Predators, Patric Hornqvist and Ryan Jones -- also scored for the first time. Not since Oct. 8, 2005, the night Sidney Crosby (and Brad Boyes and Pat Leahy) hit the back of the net for the first time had three players scored their first NHL goals in the same game. Like the Nashville-Dallas game, that night was also a run-and-gun affair -- Boston beat the Penguins 7-6 in a shootout in Crosby's third NHL game.

Fast start, slow start -- The Minnesota Wild is off to another hot start, while the Anaheim Ducks are playing true to form by struggling early.

The Wild won 6-2 Thursday at Florida to improve to 3-0-0. But they'll have to keep winning to match their fast starts in each of the last two seasons. Minnesota won its first 6 games in 2006-07 and its first 5 last season. Minnesota has had a losing record after 4 games just twice in the last 7 seasons.

The Ducks are just the opposite. Their 0-4-0 start marks the second time in the last 5 seasons that Anaheim has dropped its first 4 games. The Ducks have been over .500 after 4 games just once in the last 12 seasons and only twice since entering the NHL in 1993.

Steve the Flyer-Killer -- There is no logical reason for it, but New York Rangers' goaltender Steve Valiquette definitely has the number of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Valiquette is a journeyman who owns all of 10 NHL victories in 26 appearances during 8 seasons. But put him in the net against the Flyers and he's an All-Star: Valiquette improved to 5-1-1 lifetime against Philadelphia with a 4-3 victory Oct. 11 at the Wachovia Center.

For his career, Valiquette has a 1.63 goals-against average, a .943 save percentage and 2 shutouts (both at Philadelphia) against the Flyers. Against the rest of the NHL, he's 5-5-2-2 with a 2.79 GAA, a .903 save percentage and no shutouts in 19 games, 11 of them starts.

Bad omen -- Toronto led the NHL last season in the dubious category of most home losses by 5 or more goals -- they had 5, no other team had more than 2. They got off to another bad start by losing their home opener to Montreal by a 6-1 score on Oct. 11. It was the most goals and worst home loss for the Leafs against the Canadiens since Montreal won 10-3 at Maple Leaf Gardens on Oct. 21, 1987.

The Leafs have also had the oddity of allowing 2 goals on the same penalty in back-to-back games, something that usually happens, at most, about a half-dozen times in the entire League all season. Montreal cashed in twice on a double minor against Matt Stajan in its big win Saturday, and St. Louis cashed in twice during a major to Ryan Hollweg two days later.

Savard scores -- Marc Savard is among the NHL's most prolific passers. He hasn't been known as a shooter, at least not until this season. Savard started 2008-09 with 5 goals in Boston's first three games -- a total he didn't reach last season until the Bruins' 21st game, on Nov. 26. He also didn't score twice in a game all last season.

Busy guys -- It's been a tough time to be a Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender. Mike Smith and Olaf Kolzig faced a combined total of 126 shots in the Bolts' first three games, by far the most in franchise history. The previous mark was 109 in 2001-02. Smith pLayed in 2 of those 3 games.

Only the heroics of Smith and Kolzig limited the damage -- opponents scored just 8 times, a 2.67 average, on 42 shots per game. Unfortunately for the Lightning, they scored just 5 times in those games and lost all 3 -- the first time that's happened since '01-02. The Bolts had been outshot 126-69 before matching the Islanders at 36 shots in Thursday's 4-3 overtime loss.

Tables turned -- Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils used to own the New York Rangers. Then Henrik Lundqvist came along in the fall of 2005 and everything changed.

Brodeur and the Devils lost, 4-1, at Madison Square Garden on Monday night, continuing the Rangers' domination of their cross-river rival. The Rangers are now 8-0-1 in their last 9 regular-season meetings with the Devils -- all with Lundqvist in net. Overall, he's 13-2-4 against New Jersey and has allowed just 28 goals in those 19 games. He also was in goal for all 5 games last spring when the Rangers eliminated the Devils in the opening round of the playoffs.

Before Lundqvist's arrival, the Devils and Brodeur owned the Rangers. From 1998-99 through 2003-04, the Devils were 23-2-11-1 against New York. Brodeur had more shutouts against the Rangers (3) than regulation losses.

Brodeur is still 39-20-19 lifetime against the Rangers in the regular season, but he was 33-8-3 against them before Lundqvist arrived on Broadway. Brodeur's just 6-12-1 in his 19 regular-season meetings with Lundqvist -- plus 1-4 in the playoffs.

Most impressively, the Rangers haven't lost at home in regulation to Brodeur with Lundqvist in goal -- they're 9-0-2 in the regular season at Madison Square Garden when the two play against each other.

I've been getting frustrated lately, and the only thing keeping me sane was the team winning and other people stepping up and scoring. Then you just kind of let it go and realize you can end the series with one shot, that frustration goes away for a brief moment, and that's what happened.

— Montreal forward Max Pacioretty after scoring the series-winner in Game 4 -- his first career playoff goal -- to eliminate the Lightning and send the Canadiens into the second round