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Ottawa comes up big on opening nights

by John Kreiser /

Tomas Kaberle and the Leafs were the latest victims to the ongoing success of Antoine Vermette's Ottawa Senators, who improved to 8-2-5 in season openers.
They may not be the reigning Stanley Cup champions, but the Ottawa Senators are the kings of opening night.

The Senators’ 4-3 victory at Toronto Wednesday night gave them an 8-2-5 record in season-openers, and their .700 winning percentage (21 points out of a possible 30) is the best of any NHL team. Colorado, which beat Dallas 4-3 in its opener, is next at 16-5-7, a .696 percentage.

The Senators’ success in season-openers is even more remarkable because they’ve played two-thirds of those games away from home. Ottawa is 6-0-4 in 10 openers on the road, but just 2-2-1 at home. Four of those road wins, including each of the last three seasons, have come in Toronto.

The Avs are more balanced -- they have won eight openers each at home and on the road. This season’s win finally gave coach Joel Quenneville a victory on opening night; he had been 0-6-3 in nine previous openers.

Leaf shredder -- Few players have tortured one team the way Ottawa’s Dany Heatley has mauled the Maple Leafs. Heatley has 23 goals and 43 points in 26 career games against the Leafs. He’s been especially tough on Toronto in the two-plus seasons since he joined the Senators in 2005. Heatley has 17 goals against the Leafs in 18 games as a Senator.

 An opening nightmare -- In contrast to the Senators and Avalanche, the New York Islanders have had a miserable time on opening night. The Islanders, who open their season Friday night in Buffalo, are only 8-18-8 in their 34 season-openers. Their .353 winning percentage is the worst of any team that’s been in the NHL for 30 or more seasons.

One reason for the Isles’ opening-night problems is that they almost never open at home. Of their 35 season-openers, including this season, only four have been played at the Nassau Coliseum, the fewest of any team that began play before the 1990s’ expansion. The Isles haven’t opened at home since 1998-99, when they lost to Pittsburgh; they haven’t won on opening night at home since January 1995, when they beat Florida 2-1 in the first game after the lockout.

Spending opening night in Buffalo is nothing new for the Isles. It’s the third time in five seasons they’ve started their season at the HSBC Arena, and the fifth time in their history that they’ve opened in Buffalo, one more time than they’ve started a season at home.

Singing the Blues on opening night -- The St. Louis Blues are another team that wishes the season could start with Game 2. The Blues’ 3-2 loss in Phoenix Thursday night marked the 10th consecutive time they’ve started the season without a victory. St. Louis is 0-6-4 since a 4-2 victory over Colorado to start the 1996-97 season. That’s the longest active winless streak on opening night and just two games short of the all-time mark – Detroit’s 12-game drought (0-8-4) from 1982-93.

Fast starts -- Maybe it’s the opening-night festivities, but the New York Rangers know how to get off to fast starts. The Rangers have scored on their first shot of the season in back-to-back years. Michal Rozsival connected just 37 seconds into this season’s opener against Florida and that was actually slower than last season, when Jaromir Jagr needed just 29 seconds to score against Washington.

Neither one of those goals was close to the all-time record for fastest goal from the start of a season: Kent Nilsson of the Minnesota North Stars needed just 10 seconds to score in the season-opener at Quebec on Oct. 11, 1986.

Jagr had a pair of assists on Thursday in the Rangers’ 5-2 season-opening win over Florida. That gives him 30 points on opening night, tying him with Hall of Famer Ray Bourque for the all-time record.

Catching up with dad -- Paul Stastny has a long way to go to match the achievements of his father, Hall of Famer Peter Stastny. But the second-year forward did match one accomplishment when he scored three goals in Colorado’s season-opening win over Dallas. His father also had a hat trick in a season-opener, scoring three times when the Quebec Nordiques, the Avs’ predecessor, beat Hartford 6-5 on Oct. 6, 1982. Paul’s big night was the first three-goal game in a season-opener for a Quebec/Colorado player since Dale Hunter scored three times in the Nordiques’ 7-3 win over the Islanders in 1983.

Paul Stastny also became only the second active player to score three goals in a season-opener. Brendan Shanahan, now with the Rangers, had one with St. Louis in 1993 and another with Detroit in 2001. Those six goals represent half of Shanahan’s total of 12 opening-night tallies, the most among active players. Dino Ciccarelli and Michel Goulet share the record with 14.

Colorado also ended Dallas’ opening-night unbeaten streak at 10 games, the longest active streak in the league. The Stars would have had a long way to go to break the all-time record: Montreal went 17 openers without a loss, winning 13 games and tying four from 1963-79.

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