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New arena is no guarantee of opening-night victory

by John Kreiser
You'd think that with all the accompanying excitement, home teams would have a terrific record in the first game they play in their new arenas.

Sounds logical -- but it's not true.

The Pittsburgh Penguins became the latest team to learn that opening a new building is no guarantee of victory when they debuted Consol Energy Center on Thursday with a 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Pens' loss marked the third consecutive time a team has opened its new building with a loss. The New Jersey Devils opened the Prudential Center three years ago by losing 4-1 to Ottawa; the Phoenix Coyotes debuted at what's now Arena with a 3-1 loss to Nashville on Dec. 27, 2003.

The last team to win the first game in its new building was the Dallas Stars, who beat Nashville, 4-1, on Oct. 5, 2001. The Stars are the only one of the last eight teams to open a building with a victory.

Overall, the NHL's 30 teams are 10-16-4 in the opening games at their current arenas.

More history for Marty -- Martin Brodeur will start his 2010-11 season by making some more history.

Brodeur figures to be in goal Friday when the Devils open against the Dallas Stars at the Prudential Center (7 p.m. ET, FS-SW, MSG PLUS). That will make him the first goaltender to play 16 consecutive opening nights.

Brodeur has been in goal for every Devils opener since January 1995, when he made 25 saves in a 2-2 tie at Hartford. Overall, he's 9-4-0 with two ties and two shutouts in season openers. The Stars are the 14th franchise he'll face 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 in 2008, passing Tony Esposito's mark of 13 for Chicago from 1969-70 through 1981-82. Patrick 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 most successful teams on opening night. Their .643 winning percentage (19-9-7) is third among all teams -- but second among the 17 teams that have played at least 30 openers. Opening at home has been even better -- the Devils are 9-1-3 when playing their first game in New Jersey -- though they lost 5-2 to Philadelphia at the Prudential Center last season.

Double dip -- It's taken 38 years, but the New York Islanders finally are going to open at home in back-to-back seasons.

The Islanders begin their season at the Nassau Coliseum on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, TXA 21, MSG PLUS) when the Stars come to town. It's only the sixth time since entering the NHL in 1972 that the Isles have started the season at the Coliseum -- the fewest of any team that predates the 1990s (the Anaheim Ducks, who started play in 1992, have started at home just four times in their 16 seasons, the fewest of anyone, and play this season's opener at Detroit).

The Isles also opened at home last season for the first time since 1998; this is the first time they've started consecutive seasons at the Coliseum.

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 open Saturday in Buffalo (7 p.m. ET, MSG, MSG-B), the 60th time in franchise history they'll have started the season away from home. No one else is close; the Chicago Blackhawks are second, with 43, including Thursday's 4-3 overtime loss at Colorado.

The Rangers haven't done badly in all those season-openers on the road; they're 24-27-8, a .475 winning percentage that's eighth among all teams. The 24 wins are the most of any team; Montreal and Chicago are next with 15.

In contrast to the Rangers, the Toronto Maple Leafs played their 57th season-opener at home Thursday, tying Montreal for the most in NHL history. The Leafs' 3-2 defeat of the Canadiens gave them a 23-22-12 record in those 57 games -- quite a bit behind the Canadiens, whose 34-13-10 record is by far the most wins of any team on opening night at home.

But the best team on opening night? Without question, the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs' 4-3 overtime victory against Chicago improved their record to 18-6-7, a .694 winning percentage that's well ahead of Ottawa, the runner-up at .647. Anaheim (4-12-0, .250) has the worst mark on opening night.

He's not Mario -- Five years after Mario Lemieux retired, the NHL has another No. 66. Calgary defenseman T.J. Brodie became the first Flame to wear No. 66 when he stepped on the ice Thursday at Rexall Place in Edmonton. Brodie is the fifth player in NHL history to wear No. 66, but the first since Lemieux hung up his skates early in the 2005-06 season. The others: Milan Navy, Yanick Dupre and Gino Odjick -- all of whom wore it during just one season.
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