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First period continues to be tough for scorers

by John Kreiser
Does it seem like your favorite team has trouble scoring in the first period? You're probably right.

Through the season's first 261 games, far fewer goals have been scored in the first period than in either of the other two. Just 401 goals were scored in the opening 20 minutes of those games, compared with 545 in the second and 504 in the third.

That pattern is the same as last season, when there were 2,025 goals scored in the opening period of the NHL's 1,230 regular-season games, 2,437 in the second period and 2,346 in the third.

In fact, scoring in the first period as a percentage of total non-shootout goals scored is even lower than it was last season, while second-period scoring is up noticeably. Only 27.2 percent of goals this season have been scored in the first period (down from 29.2 in 2008-09), while 37.0 percent have come in the second period (up from 35.2). The percentages for the third period and overtime nearly are identical (34.2 in the third period this season, up from 33.8, and 1.5 percent in OT, down from 1.8).

Six teams failed to reach double figures in first-period goals through the season's first six weeks; all 30 were in double figures in each of the other two periods. Defensively, three teams have not allowed more than nine goals in the first period, while all have allowed double figures in the second and all but Chicago (nine) have done so in the third.

The best defensive accomplishment belongs to the Philadelphia Flyers, who have allowed just five goals in the opening period of their 15 games. Perhaps the oddest belongs to Washington, which has allowed just nine first-period goals -- but has surrendered a combined total of 43 in the second and third periods.

On the Isle -- Perhaps even stranger for Washington is the fact that five of the first-period goals the Caps have allowed have come against the New York Islanders, a team notorious for its slow starts. Washington allowed six goals in its first 17 opening periods, and then surrendered three to the Islanders in less than seven minutes Wednesday.

The Islanders were tied for last in the NHL in first-period goals in 2008-09 with just 58, and were off to another slow start before getting three in the opening 20 minutes of each of their last two games, against Atlanta and Washington. Before getting three in the first period against the Thrashers last Saturday, they hadn't had as many as two goals in a first period since last March 10 against Toronto, a span of 31 games, and hadn't scored three since March 7 against New Jersey.

Keep on shooting -- Washington's 11-round shootout win against the Islanders was the 11th game to go 10 or more rounds since the NHL began using the shootout in 2005-06. The Capitals have plenty of experience in extra-long shootouts -- Wednesday's game marked the fifth time they've gone 10 or more rounds to decide a game (they've won twice). Only three other teams (the Rangers, Islanders and Florida Panthers) have been involved in as many as two; 11 other teams have taken part in one.

Shootout star -- Johan Hedberg has spent most of his NHL career as a backup or part-time starter. But when it comes to shootouts, he's a Vezina Trophy candidate. Hedberg was in goal Sunday when the Atlanta Thrashers rallied for a 3-2 shootout win against the St. Louis Blues, improving his career record in the tie-breaker to 13-3, including five consecutive victories. His .813 winning percentage in shootouts is the best of any goaltender who has played in at least 10 during the four-plus seasons since the shootout was instituted by the NHL.

Russian to 400 -- Sometime soon -- perhaps Saturday against his former team, the New York Rangers -- Ottawa's Alexei Kovalev will join a pretty exclusive club: Russian-born players with 400 NHL goals.

Kovalev enters the weekend with 398 goals, trailing only Sergei Fedorov (483), Alexander Mogilny (475) and Pavel Bure (438). He's 11th among active players and 82nd on the all-time list, with John Ogrodnick (402) next in his sights.

Atlanta's Slava Kozlov is No. 5 among Russians with 348 goals, but two of today's top stars are racing up in the rear-view mirror. At age 26, Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk already has 307 goals in seven-plus seasons, while Washington's Alex Ovechkin has 233 goals since entering the NHL in 2005 -- and has yet to reach his 25th birthday.

Ovi who? -- Any (and every) NHL team would miss Alex Ovechkin, who's sat out Washington's last four games with an upper-body injury. But the Caps have done OK without him.

Washington enters Friday's home game against Minnesota 3-1-0 without its superstar scorer, losing to New Jersey and then beating Florida twice and the Islanders in a shootout Wednesday. The Caps also extended their string of games in which they've scored two or more goals to 18 -- the longest since they scored two or more in the last 24 games of the 1993-94 season.

They've also helped themselves by getting the first goal in 15 of their 18 games, the most in the League this season.

Duck hunter -- Prior to Wednesday's 3-1 win against Anaheim, the last time Martin Brodeur had beaten the Ducks they were still "Mighty." Brodeur's 31-save performance in New Jersey's 3-1 win was his (and the Devils') first over the since-renamed Mighty Ducks since Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final, when Brodeur and New Jersey won 3-0. Since then, Brodeur had gone 0-2-1 against Anaheim; the Devils had been 0-3-1.

Rolling a 9 -- The Detroit Red Wings became the first team to break the seven-goal mark in a game this season when they routed the Blue Jackets, 9-1, in Columbus on Wednesday. It was the most goals ever allowed by the Jackets at Nationwide Arena, and the eight-goal margin matched the worst loss in franchise history. It was the Wings' biggest winning margin since an 11-1 win at Montreal in December 1995.

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