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Home teams not putting best foot forward at start

Friday, 01.25.2013 / 10:15 AM / Inside the Numbers

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Home teams not putting best foot forward at start
Early this season, there seems to be a road-ice advantage, particularly when the home team is playing the opener in its building.

The Anaheim Ducks become the 30th and last team to play its home opener when they take the ice Friday night at the Honda Center against Vancouver. They'll be hoping to avoid the problems that teams have had in winning their first home games this season.

Home openers have been anything but a chance to celebrate for most teams. San Jose became only the 12th of 29 teams to win its first home game of the season when the Sharks rallied to beat Phoenix 5-3 on Thursday night at HP Pavilion. The Canucks will be looking for revenge after the Ducks spoiled opening night at Rogers Arena with a 7-3 victory six days earlier.

Home teams' success in their openers has been dropping for the past couple of years. Teams went 17-7-6 in their home openers in 2010-11 and fell to 15-11-4 last season. But this is the first time since play resumed after the 2004-05 work stoppage that road teams will win more than half of the games in regulation.

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Teams' troubles in their home openers are just part of an early trend that has seen road teams win 25 of the first 49 games this season. Through six days, visiting teams are 25-20-4, while home teams are 24-20-5.

Spoiling the party -- One team that would love a do-over of its home opener is the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, who disappointed a sellout crowd last Saturday when they were beaten 5-2 by Chicago. The Kings became the fifth consecutive defending champion to lose its home opener after winning the Cup the previous spring -- and the first since the 1987-88 Edmonton Oilers to lose by three or more goals when opening at home.

The last defending champion to win its first game in its own building the following season was the 2007-08 Anaheim Ducks, who beat Boston at the Honda Center after raising their Stanley Cup banner.

The Kings' loss also dropped teams trying to defend their championship in a short season to 0-2-0. The 1994-95 New York Rangers started defense of their Cup in a 48-game season by losing to Buffalo.

Wild nights -- One team that never has trouble in its home opener is the Minnesota Wild. Not only did Minnesota's 4-2 win against Colorado last Saturday make the Wild the only team to win its home opener in each of the last six seasons, they've now won their first game at Xcel Energy Center in 11 straight seasons. (During the 2010-11 season, the Wild opened the season with a pair of games in Helsinki, Finland, and lost the game in which they were the "home" team to the Carolina Hurricanes.) The only home opener at Xcel the Wild didn't win was their first one, when they tied Philadelphia 3-3 on Oct. 11, 2000 -- the first home game in franchise history.

Back aches -- The New York Rangers have been one of the NHL's best teams when they're playing back-to-back games -- they were 19-4-5 last season and went 10-2-2 in the second half. In their first three full seasons since John Tortorella took over as coach in 2009, the Rangers went 31-10-4 in the second game of back-to-backs.

But the Rangers' struggles at the start of this season have even put a dent in their success when playing on consecutive nights. The Blueshirts have played four games this season -- all in back-to-back situations -- and have dropped three of them. More telling could be the fact that they've lost the back end both times, including Thursday's 2-1 loss at Philadelphia.

Despite going 1-3-0 this season, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is 39-16-7 with a 1.95 goals-against average and six shutouts in the 61 occasions in which he has started on consecutive days.

The good news for the Rangers: They have a League-low four sets of back-to-backs in their final 44 games.

The power of two -- Through the first 39 games this season, there was only one in which a team overcame a two-goal deficit to win -- Edmonton rallied for a 3-2 shootout win at Vancouver last Sunday after trailing 2-0 with less than five seconds remaining in the second period.

But that all changed Thursday night, when three of the 10 games saw teams climb out of a two-goal hole to win. In two of the three, the team that blew the two-goal lead didn't even get to overtime -- Toronto saw a 3-1 lead against the New York Islanders turn into a 7-4 loss and San Jose scored four times to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 5-3 win against Phoenix. Dallas couldn't hold a 2-0 lead against Chicago, but the Stars did get a point in a 3-2 overtime loss.

A night to remember -- Not only did the Islanders rally from a two-goal deficit to win at Toronto by matching the biggest offensive night by any team so far this season, they hit a few other milestones as well.

The Islanders' seven goals were the most they've ever scored in a road opener, dating to their inception in 1972 -- in fact, they had scored just five goals combined in their four previous road openers. It was also the most goals they've ever scored at the Air Canada Centre, and the most they've had in Toronto since a 7-1 win on March 20, 1986.

Quote of the Day

I came into a team that had 65 points, that was at the bottom of the basement, a team that everybody wrote off as never going to be good. My goal is to go from the very bottom to the very top.

— Forward Brandon Dubinsky on signing a six-year contract extension with the Columbus Blue Jackets