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Road starts no big deal to Ducks

by John Kreiser /

Opening their season away from Anaheim is nothing new for the Ducks who have played just three of their 13 previous season-openers at home.
Opening their season away from Anaheim is nothing new for the Ducks, though at least this year, they’ll have company on the road.

The Ducks and Los Angeles Kings begin the NHL season with games Saturday and Sunday in London. It’s only the third time the NHL has played games outside North America, but the second time the Ducks have been involved -- they split two games with the Vancouver Canucks in Tokyo 10 years ago.

The Ducks are quite accustomed to being away from home on opening night. Of their 13 previous season-openers, just three have been played in Anaheim, including the franchise’s first-ever game against Detroit on Oct. 8, 1993. That 7-2 loss was a harbinger of things to come opening night: Anaheim is only 4-9 in season-openers, though the Ducks have won the last two, including a 4-3 home victory over the Kings last year, and three of their last four.

The Kings will be away from Staples Center for the fourth straight opening night and the eighth time in 10 years -- a big change after opening at home 18 times in 20 years from 1977-96. Unlike their suburban rivals, the Kings have lost their last three openers, though they do have a winning record (16-14-9) on opening night since joining the NHL in 1967.

One bad omen for the Kings: This is the third time they’ve opened the season against the reigning Stanley Cup champion. They lost both previous games (to Montreal in 1968 and the New York Islanders in 1981, both at home) and were outscored 9-2.

Though the Ducks have made the NHL’s Final Four in each of the last three seasons, the all-time series between the Southern California rivals is almost even. The Kings have 82 points in their 76 games against Anaheim, while the Ducks have 81. One reason for the Kings’ success: They’ve won eight of the 11 overtime games that have gone to a decision since 2000, when the NHL began awarding points for overtime, including six of eight in Anaheim.

Mixed starts -- The Ducks are the first defending Cup champs since the 2003 New Jersey Devils to open away from home. New Jersey began defense of its championship with a 3-3 tie in Boston.

The last 15 Cup winners have gone 9-3 with two ties and a shootout loss in their season-openers. Cup winners have gotten points in their last seven openers, going 5-0-1 with a shootout loss by Carolina to Buffalo last season. The last defending champion to lose its season opener was the 1998-99 Detroit Red Wings, who lost 2-1 at Toronto on opening night.

Quick on the draw -- It’s hard to score without the puck, and no team has been better at getting it than the Red Wings.

The Wings are the reigning champions of the faceoff circle, having won a league-best 53.6 percent of their draws last season. Though it was the first time in six seasons they finished first in faceoff percentage, they’re the only team to finish in the top 10 in every season during that span. Perhaps not coincidentally, they’ve finished first in the Central Division in each of those seasons.

Century mark -- The Red Wings also enter the season with the longest active streak of 100-point seasons — seven. They have finished with 100 or more points every season since getting “only” 93 in 1998-99. Ottawa and New Jersey have the second-longest streaks: four seasons.

Should the Wings break the century mark this season, they’ll tie the Montreal Canadiens for the most consecutive 100-point seasons. Montreal had eight in a row from 1974-75 to 1981-82 — and missed a ninth by just two points in 1982-83.

Slow on the draw -- The Pittsburgh Penguins improved by 47 points last season, the fourth-biggest turnaround in NHL history. But they didn’t do it because of their prowess in the faceoff circle.

No team has been as bad at winning faceoffs over the past six seasons as the Penguins. Last season’s 47.0 success rate was last in the NHL -- but it still represented an improvement from their 45.9 rate in 2005-06 (a figure that’s tied with the 2002-03 Atlanta Thrashers for the worst in the past five seasons). In the last four pre-Sidney Crosby seasons, the Pens were 26th (47.2 percent), 19th (49.4 percent), 26th (47.4 percent) and 29th (46.7 percent).

The Penguins have to hope that two of last season’s top rookies, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, show the kind of improvement in their second season that Crosby did in his. Crosby improved to 49.8 percent last season after winning just 45.5 percent of his faceoffs as a rookie. Malkin won just 43.3 percent of his faceoffs last season, while Staal won only 37.1 percent.

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