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Brodeur set to make history on Opening Night

by John Kreiser
Martin Brodeur will start his 2009-10 season by making history.

Brodeur figures to be in goal Saturday night when the New Jersey Devils open against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Prudential Center. Not only will he become just the second goaltender in NHL history to play in 1,000 games, he'll also become the first to play on 15 consecutive opening nights.

Brodeur has been in goal for every Devils opener since January 1995, when he made 27 saves in a 2-2 tie at Hartford. Overall, he's 9-3-2 in season openers with a 1.88 goals-against average, a .928 save percentage and two shutouts. The Flyers are the 13th franchise he'll face on opening night -- the only repeaters have been Tampa Bay (won in 1997, lost in 2007, both on the road) and Hartford/Carolina (tied at Hartford in January 1995, won at Carolina in 2006).

Brodeur already owns the record for most consecutive opening-night starts for one team -- he got that one last year, passing Tony Esposito's mark of 13 for Chicago from 1969-70 through 1981-82. Roy (1989-90 through 2002-03) and Terry Sawchuk (1950-51 through 1963-64) played for two teams during their streaks.

Largely thanks to Brodeur, the Devils are one of the NHL's best on opening night. Their .662 winning percentage (19-8-7) is fourth among all teams -- but first among the 17 teams that have played at least 30 openers. Opening at home has been even better: the Devils are 9-0-3 when playing their first game in New Jersey, and Brodeur has won all five season-openers at home, including last year's 2-1 victory against the Islanders.

The winningest goaltender in NHL history figures to set at least two other records this season. By midseason, he'll likely pass Roy's mark of 1,029 games played -- and his 101 career shutouts are two shy of Sawchuk's record of 103.

Unwanted history -- The Florida Panthers will be trying to avoid making history of their own this season. The Panthers have missed the playoffs in eight consecutive seasons, one short of the NHL record held by the Colorado Rockies/New Jersey Devils franchise from 1978-79 through 1986-87. They've already matched the Boston Bruins (1959-60 through 1966-67) for the second-longest streak.

Some rare home cooking -- Forgive the New York Islanders and their fans if they wonder what opening a season at home feels like. After all, it's a rare occurrence.

The Islanders begin their season at the Nassau Coliseum on Saturday night when the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins come to town. It's the first time the Isles have opened at home since 1998 (when they lost 4-3 to the Penguins), and just the fifth time since they entered the NHL in 1972. No team that predates the 1990s expansions has started the season at home so seldom -- the Anaheim Ducks, who started play in 1992, have started at home just three times in their 15 seasons, the fewest of anyone.

Debuting at home for the fifth time enables the Isles to have as many season-openers at the Coliseum as they've had in Buffalo and Los Angeles, where they've started five seasons each.

Road warriors -- The Islanders may have the highest percentage of season-openers on the road, but for sheer volume, no one can top their big-city rivals. The Rangers opened Friday night in Pittsburgh -- the 59th time in franchise history they've started the season away from home. No one else is close; the Chicago Blackhawks are second with 42.

The Rangers haven't done badly in all those road openers; despite the 3-2 loss to the Penguins, they're 24-27-8, a .475 winning percentage

Rangers coach John Tortorella lost for only the second time in seven season-openers. Tortorella was 5-1-0 (.833) on opening night during his time at Tampa Bay; this was his first opening night with the Rangers.

Road worriers -- It would be hard to blame the San Jose Sharks for wanting to make sure they don't open next season on the road. The Sharks' 5-2 loss at Colorado on Thursday kept them winless when opening the season away from San Jose. They're now 0-5-2 when opening on the road.

The Sharks actually might not be upset if their season began with Game 2. They're only 4-5-2 in season-openers at the Shark Tank. San Jose, Pittsburgh (8-9-1) and Atlanta (2-3-0) are the only teams that are below .500 when playing their opening game at home.

At last -- Maybe the Calgary Flames should wear their retro uniforms on opening night every year. The Flames celebrated the start of their 30th year in Calgary by donning the red-gold-and-white unis of yesteryear for their opener against Vancouver on Thursday -- and promptly ended the NHL's longest active losing streak. Their 5-3 victory against the Canucks ended an 0-6 slide on opening night that dated to 2001.

A Calgary loss would have tied the NHL record for longest opening-night losing streak -- a mark held by Anaheim (1993-99) and Dallas (1972-78, when the franchise was based in Minnesota). The Flames were still well behind the record for the longest winless streak on opening night -- Detroit went 12 years (1982-93) without winning a season opener, losing eight games and tying four others.

Body count -- Program sales at the Bell Centre figure to be brisk this season, now that Montreal GM Bob Gainey has remodeled his roster. The Habs' lineup for their opening-night 4-3 OT win in Toronto featured no fewer than seven players wearing the bleu, blanc et rouge for the first time. That increases the number of players who've worn a Canadiens jersey in their 100 years to 769.
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