Scoring first doesn't guarantee victory. But any team’s odds of winning are a lot better when they’re playing in front rather than from behind — even more this season than in the past.
Teams that score first this season are winning 71 percent of all games, a sizeable jump from last season, when the team that scored first was successful 67.6 percent of the time. That, in turn, was a jump from 2005-06, when the team that scored first won 66.1 percent of the time. Prior to that, the results differ because games could finish in ties.
No team this season is under .500 when scoring first — and no club has won more than 43 percent of its games when the opposition scores first. That includes Detroit, which is running away with the overall points title, but is just 5-7-2 when the opposition scored first. The Wings’ secret to success: They’ve scored the first goal 38 times, going 33-3-2 when doing so.
Duck tales — The defending champion Anaheim Ducks enter the weekend having lost 21 games in regulation — one more than they did all of last season, when they went 48-20-14 on the way to winning the Stanley Cup. The Ducks have paid a big price for their inability to get the first goal of the game. Anaheim has allowed the game’s first goal a league-leading 35 times, going 13-18-4 in those games. It’s a huge difference from last season, when the Ducks got on the scoreboard first 48 times in 82 games — a total exceeded only by Nashville — and went 34-5-9 in those games.
Long time gone —The Ducks are also getting a first-hand look at North America — they’re on a nine-game road trip that’s part of a stretch in which they play 12 of 13 games away from Honda Center. Since the 1967 expansion, the Ducks are only the fourth franchise (Los Angeles three times, San Jose and Philadelphia) scheduled to play 12 road games in a span of less than four weeks. No team has had more than 12 road games in a 27-day stretch. The Ducks enter the weekend having lost the first two games of their nine-game trip and are 2-3-0 in the first five of the 12 road games. Only the Flyers, who went 9-2-1 in 2005-06, managed to finish over .500 in a stretch of 12 road games.
Guarding the lead — Once you’ve got the lead, the next step is to preserve it. Few goaltenders have been as good at is as Minnesota’s Nicklas Backstrom, who has teamed with Josh Harding to make the Wild one of two teams with a perfect record (21-0-0) when leading after two periods. Backstrom is now 26-0-0 in his career when the Wild lead after 40 minutes — and 36-3-3 when Minnesota is leading at any time when he’s playing in goal.
In all, the Wild have won their last 41 games when leading after two periods, dating to a 3-1 loss at Edmonton on Dec. 14, 2006. They are 48-1 in such situations during the past two seasons.
How the West is won — A swing through Western Canada isn’t usually a good thing, unless you’re the Dallas Stars, who complete the second of this season’s two trips this weekend with visits to Calgary and Edmonton after playing at Vancouver on Tuesday.
For the Stars, a visit to Western Canada is a chance to get well. Since 2001-02, Dallas is 17-5-3 at Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton on trips when the Stars play all three. That includes a 3-1 mark this season; they’ve split in Vancouver and won in Calgary and Edmonton.
Road blues — At Madison Square Garden, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist more than lives up to his sobriquet of “King Henrik.” On the road, however, he’s been anything but royalty. Lundqvist is 0-4-4 in his last eight decisions on the road and hasn’t won a game away from home since beating the Senators in Ottawa on Dec. 1. For the season, Lundqvist is 22-19-5 overall, but has an 18-10-0 mark at the Garden and is just 4-9-5 on the road. Six of his seven shutouts have come at home; the other was at Boston in a game the Rangers lost 1-0 in a shootout.
Coach Tom Renney started backup Steve Valiquette in Philadelphia on Thursday and was rewarded with a 4-0 victory. Valiquette has three wins in six starts on the road. The victory at Philadelphia ended the Rangers’ six-game road losing streak; they haven’t gone winless in seven on the road since going 0-6-1 from Dec. 31, 2001, to Jan. 17, 2002.
Home woes — While the Rangers are struggling on the road, their suburban rivals, the Islanders, have lost their touch at home. The Isles completed an 0-4-2 month of January at the Nassau Coliseum on Thursday with a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, the team with the fewest points in the overall standings. It was the Islanders’ first winless month at home since they lost all six games at the Coliseum in March 2001.