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Two new coaches earn first victories

by Brian Hunter
A few thoughts on the first of many busy Saturday nights in the NHL in the months to come:

Coaching milestone, Part I — One night after John Anderson coached his first NHL win behind the bench for Atlanta, it was Scott Gordon of the New York Islanders achieving the feat as the team won its home opener at Nassau Coliseum.

Unlike Anderson, who had to sweat out a blown three-goal lead before his Thrashers finally pulled it out, Gordon didn't have to worry as the Islanders shelled the St. Louis Blues for four goals in the first period and cruised to a 5-2 victory.

"It was the way we played," said Gordon, last season's AHL coach of the year with the Providence. "Hopefully that's going to be our identity as a team and that's how we're going to play.

"We haven't done anything more than earn two points, but we're headed in the right direction."

Gordon and the Islanders were coming off a 2-1 loss in New Jersey on Friday, a game in which goaltender Joey MacDonald played solidly. With Rick DiPietro still on the mend, MacDonald was back in goal again Saturday and responded with 24 saves in a first-star effort.

"Last night after the game they told me there could be a chance so I prepared like I was going to play," said MacDonald, whose last NHL win came for Boston during the 2006-07 season. "That's what I've got to do every game, even now when Ricky is playing I am going to be ready because you never know."

Coaching milestone, Part II — Peter DeBoer of the Florida Panthers joined Gordon by picking up his first win as an NHL coach, also in his second try, and the accomplishment came in thrilling fashion. David Booth scored his second goal of the night in overtime for a 3-2 victory over Anderson and the Atlanta Thrashers.

Booth emerged last season as a legitimate scoring threat with 22 goals, and he's off to a fast start with three in the first two games of this new campaign. DeBoer praised Booth's effort in picking the Panthers up one night after they blew an early 2-0 lead and lost in Carolina.

"Speed, enthusiasm, the energy he plays with every night, he's a great player," DeBoer said. "Guys like that are almost the heartbeat of your team. They get over the boards and they can change the momentum with their energy and their work ethic. Those guys are easy to coach."

Booth is fast becoming a favorite with the fans at BankAtlantic Center, but some of the biggest cheers of the night were for Richard Zednik, who played in his first home game since a frightening incident last February when his neck was slashed by the errant skate of then-teammate Olli Jokinen. Zednik recovered following surgery, but missed the remainder of the season. He assisted on two goals Saturday.

"This is the best game he's played for us since I've been here," DeBoer said of Zednik, who received a loud ovation during pregame introductions. "I thought he was one of our best players tonight."

Beinvenue — Alex Tanguay is working on winning over as many new fans as possible before the Montreal Canadiens arrive home on Wednesday for the home opener of their 100th season.

Tanguay scored his first goal with the Habs and chipped in three assists — all in the second period — in a 6-1 rout over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre on Saturday. A new weapon in Montreal's offensive arsenal after coming over from Calgary, he's enjoying a fresh start after an off year with the Flames.

"A lot of things (were) said when we made the trade for him," Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said. "I think he didn't really enjoy the year last year and wanted to kind of have a rebound year. He knew he was coming to a good team.

"Because he was injured a little bit in preseason (with a hip problem), he didn't have a chance to really get that timing back and get that chemistry with Saku (Koivu). Those two guys have too much talent to be out of that scoring sheet for a long time. Tonight it showed."

Koivu also had three assists and the Canadiens scored three power-play goals in a 5:28 span of the second period to blow the game open. It also relieved some of the pressure from a 2-1 shootout loss in Buffalo on Friday.

"It's nice before we get home," Tanguay said. "I know how the media in Montreal can be as far as pressure's concerned."



That's more like it — The Detroit Red Wings looked much more like a team interested in keeping the Stanley Cup in Saturday night's 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators than they did two nights prior, when they lost at home by the same score to Toronto after raising their championship banner.

It helped that Johan Franzen played like the same guy who scored 28 goals in his final 32 regular-season and playoff games during the march to the title. A pair of third-period goals by Franzen rallied the Wings, who outshot the Senators 13-4 over the final 20 minutes and 41-22 overall.

"Some of the things we talked about after game one – our counterattack wasn't as quick as we wanted it to be, and that's how we scored our last two goals," captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "Franzen got the one coming down the left side, and the second one, too, where we were trying to get puck up quick to the forwards coming with speed."

Detroit coach Mike Babcock wasn't getting overly excited about one win any more than he got down over one loss. The important thing he saw was that the Wings put the memories of last season behind them and started carving out their identity for the months to come.

"It was a good game for us to find a way to win and it was important that we had to really work hard to do it," Babcock said. "We need to find our work ethic and our passion again. It doesn't carry over from year to year. You've got to find it again and I thought we took a good step here tonight."

Flyer-killer — Henrik Lundqvist might have to get accustomed to taking nights off when the New York Rangers meet the Philadelphia Flyers, because Steve Valiquette has it covered.

The backup goaltender has 10 career victories — five against the Flyers. At one point last season he shut out Philadelphia in consecutive starts at the Wachovia Center. On Saturday night, in that same building, Valiquette was at it again, leading the Rangers to a 4-3 win that kept them perfect in four games this season.

"Maybe it's watching the 'Rocky' movie before the game or 'Philadelphia Freedom' by Elton John," Valiquette said. "There's a few landmark songs and movies you can watch before you come to Philly to get you excited to play here. This is obviously a great city and this is a great building to play in."


"There's a few landmark songs and movies you can watch before you come to Philly to get you excited to play here. This is obviously a great city and this is a great building to play in."New York Rangers goaltender Steve Valiquette, on playing in Philadelphia

If that's the case, the Flyers might want to raid Valiquette's movie and CD collections in an attempt to stifle some of the magic he seems to have going against them. Meanwhile, the Rangers just keep winning in all sorts of different situations, arenas and countries.

"We've won every way," Rangers center Scott Gomez said. "We've won with special teams. We've won on the road. We've held the lead. We've come from behind. We're learning how to win."

Hard at work — Brooks Laich is a forward for the Washington Capitals, not a construction worker, but he looked the part of the latter in the dressing room after Saturday's 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Laich sported a red construction helmet that caught the attention of teammate Alex Ovechkin.


"What is that?" the NHL's reigning MVP yelled above the locker-room din. "What is your hat?"

Laich got it for the effort he put forth in playing a gritty game and netting the go-ahead goal against the Blackhawks, one night after a late collapse against Atlanta ruined their season opener. Washington captain Chris Clark awards the helmet to symbolize a player's hard work.

"I was trying to put a song on the radio, and I got flipped a hat and told to wear it," Laich said. "It's a neat little thing to do in the locker room and the players appreciate it when their efforts are recognized."

The one guy on the Capitals who's never hard to recognize would be Ovechkin, and it was that way again Saturday. He scored his first two goals of the season and got the Verizon Center crowd fired up with his subsequent celebrations. Even the opposing coach couldn't help gushing about AO.

"Look at him and how he plays — he wins his battles. That's why he's a star player," Chicago's Denis Savard said. "You want to be a star player, you do it every night, not just once in a while."

Sticking with it — The New Jersey Devils kept pumping shot after shot on Marc-Andre Fleury, but for more than 57 minutes they couldn't put a puck behind the Pittsburgh Penguins goalie.


Then, a seemingly innocent play, Patrik Elias whipping a pass out in front of the net, turned into a goal when the puck deflected off the skate of defenseman Hal Gill and past a helpless Fleury with 2:29 left in regulation. Zach Parise scored in overtime, on the Devils' 49th shot, and they escaped Mellon Arena with a 2-1 victory.

"When you get that many shots, you could get discouraged but we didn't," Brian Rolston said. "We stayed with it."

Down at the other end of the ice, Martin Brodeur, who earned the 540th win of his career, had plenty of time to think about the 539 that preceded it. That's because he faced only 15 shots, and just seven after the opening period.

"It was like one of those games when I first came into the League, not a lot of shots and not a lot of goals," Brodeur said. "We got a lucky bounce, but we deserved it. He (Fleury) played well, it's too bad for him, but we'll definitely take this win."

A dejected Fleury was aware the Penguins let one slip away, though through no fault of his

"This was tough, tough to swallow. We just had that one goal and to give up that goal to tie the game and then (have them) come up with the win, that was a tough one," Fleury said.

Down, not out — Playing from behind, the Carolina Hurricanes apparently have opponents right where they want them.


It might not be the wisest strategy long-term, and it's certainly unintentional, but the Hurricanes are now 2-0 to start the season despite trailing by multiple goals in the first period of both games. The Tampa Bay Lightning nearly carried a 3-0 advantage into the second intermission Saturday, but a Rod Brind'Amour power-play tally with nine seconds left in the middle period sparked a comeback that culminated in a 4-3 overtime win.

"We definitely don't always dig ourselves that hole, but it was nice to come back and show that character again," said Eric Staal, who scored a pair of goals, including the winner with 23.6 seconds left in the extra session.

While the Hurricanes aren't complaining about the way they're winning, at this point the Lightning would take two points any way they could get them. After dropping consecutive 2-1 games in the Bridgestone NHL Premiere 2008 series in Prague against the Rangers, they got a point in their opener at the St. Pete Times Forum — but lost their third in a row under new coach Barry Melrose.

"Tough loss," said goalie Mike Smith, who shattered his stick against the crossbar after Staal's tying goal in the third period. "It's frustrating when you're up 3-0 and we think we have the world by the finger and let up. ... We've got to play 60 minutes. It's as simple as that."

Strong chemistry – While playing for New Jersey earlier in his career, Jason Arnott was part of a dynamic line featuring wingers Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora. The trio helped lead the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final in consecutive seasons and won a championship in 2000.


Now starting his third season with the Nashville Predators, it appears Arnott has found a new best friend on the ice in J.P. Dumont. Arnott scored twice Saturday off Dumont assists in a 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars at Sommet Center, and both players set up a tally in the opening minute by Shea Weber.

"He seems to find me wherever I am," Arnott said of Dumont. "We kind of created that chemistry and bond. We're talking all the time. When we're coming to the bench, he's saying, ‘Did you see me here? Did you see me there?' Because next time when you get on the ice, he's going to be there."

Coming up with a hard-fought two points against the Stars, who made it to the Western Conference Finals last season, was in stark contrast to how the Predators played Friday when they got swamped in St. Louis and gave up four power-play goals in a losing effort.

"They responded. They took it as a challenge and said that we are better than we were yesterday," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said after his team enjoyed a 32-20 shots advantage over Dallas.

Homecoming spoiled – Manny Fernandez is healthy again after spending most of his first season with the Boston Bruins on the injury list. His first game of the season took on a special tone not only because he was back on the ice, but because he was playing in Minnesota, where he spent six seasons.


The Wild prevented his return from being a happy one, however, getting a pair of goals from Eric Belanger and holding on for a 4-3 win at Xcel Energy Center. Belanger's first goal and a second-period score by Marc-Andre Bergeron left Fernandez less than pleased with his effort.

"The first and second goal was a good example of what's missing in my game, the sharpness," he said. "Those are two goals that shouldn't go. There's no reason for that, regardless if I get a good look or not."

Minnesota selected Fernandez from Dallas in the expansion draft prior to its first season in 2000, uniting him with coach Jacques Lemaire, who also happens to be his uncle.

"I didn't look at him at all," Lemaire said about Saturday's reunion. "I was just happy when we scored. I had enough problems looking at my boys to get them to play together."

Lemaire's lineup featured a plethora of new faces, including Bergeron, Antti Miettinen, Owen Nolan and rookie Colton Gillies — all of whom registered points in their debuts for the Wild.

Good first impression — He didn't come cheap, but after one game the Phoenix Coyotes must feel as though center Olli Jokinen was worth the price they paid to acquire him via a trade with Florida on Draft Night.


Jokinen opened the scoring with a power-play goal and set up another score with the man-advantage by Peter Mueller later in the first period of a 3-1 win Saturday over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Arena.

"We came out flying," said Jokinen, who came to Phoenix for a pair of young defensemen, Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton, and a second-round draft pick. "We had a lot of energy out there. A lot of guys were playing their first game, and almost the whole first period was good hockey for us."

One of those energy guys Jokinen was referring to, 19-year-old Kyle Turris, set up that first goal with a pass to the top of the left circle. Turris got his feet wet with three games at the end of last season, and it apparently got him comfortable.

"It looked like the guy's been in the league for 10 years," Jokinen said, "and that was his fourth game."

Passing a test — They finished at opposite ends of the Western Conference standings last season, but the San Jose Sharks weren't taking the Los Angeles Kings for granted when the teams met for the first time this season.


Despite picking up 37 fewer points than the Sharks, the Kings won three games at HP Pavilion during November 2007 alone — so San Jose had to be a bit leery despite playing on home ice Saturday night. They yielded the game's opening goal to Alexander Frolov but came back strong over the final two periods to record a 3-1 victory, their second straight under new coach Todd McLellan.

"It was a faster game than the Anaheim game (a 4-1 win Thursday), and we had our legs underneath us and moved the puck well," McLellan said. "It was the first big test of many, to see how we would come out and how our leadership would react, and they passed."

Not only did the Sharks move the puck well, they put it on net frequently. There couldn't have been any more disparity in the workloads of the goaltenders — Jason LaBarbera faced 41 shots and did everything he could to keep the Kings in the game, while Evgeni Nabokov saw only 13 pucks come at him all night

"When you shoot, good things happen," said defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who had two assists. "The first 10 minutes of the game, we were a little too fancy. We got back to taking a lot of shots, and it started to pay off for us."

Total team effort — It all seemed to come easy for the Vancouver Canucks in their season-opening 6-0 win over the Calgary Flames on Thursday. As expected, trying to go into their Northwest Division rival's building two nights later and complete a home-and-home sweep turned out to be a much more difficult proposition.


But the Canucks pulled it off, thanks in large part to Pavol Demitra's overtime goal that silenced the Pengrowth Saddledome crowd and typified a come-from-behind effort where everyone on the ice factored in to the 5-4 victory.

"It's a great feeling, a win in this building, and a good start at 2-0. Everybody on this team is having a good time, everyone's contributing," said Demitra, who played for Minnesota the past two seasons.

After leading 1-0 early in the first period, the Canucks found themselves forced to rally from 3-1 and 4-3 deficits. Aided by a pair of goals from Daniel Sedin, they did just that and got a very satisfying start to a six-game road swing.

"It helps when four lines are chipping in. As long as everyone can keep it going, that's the main thing," said Rick Rypien, who has a goal in each of the first two games. "It shows how much guys want to win and are willing to do whatever. Everyone stepped up in whatever role they were in."

Material from wire services was used in this report.

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