ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Well, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks certainly upheld the honor of the NHL's original 26 teams Friday night at the Arrowhead Pond. But -- and doesn't there always seem to be a but when the Ducks are involved? -- it was no casual skate through and around one of the league's two new teams.
The expansion Minnesota Wild did nothing to embarrass itself in its debut, but it found no answers for the Ducks' standout penalty-killing unit, superb goaltending and strong play around the net.
The fact is the Wild had the Ducks on the run at several critical points, but failed to capitalize and lost, 3-1, before a non-sellout crowd of 16,520.
Three aspects of the game that tormented the Ducks last season, preventing them from reaching the Stanley Cup playoffs, came through in a big way Friday.
First, the Duck's penalty-killing unit blanked Minnesota on six short-handed situations, including one while down two men for a full two minutes midway through the first period. The Ducks ranked last in penalty killing last season with a 79.1 percent success rate.
Second, goalie Guy Hebert showed he has put whatever ailed him during a mediocre 1999-2000 season behind him. He was sharp from start to finish, but particularly while the Ducks were short two men in the first period. He stopped 35 shots.
Third, and not to be overlooked, the Ducks scored not once, not twice, but three times by crashing the Minnesota net, converting on rebounds and point-blank tries. Goals by Jim Cummins, Matt Cullen (power play) and Marty McInnis were the sort of hard-working goals the Ducks lacked last season.
The little things enabled the Ducks to emerge victorious on opening night for the first time in their eight-season history. It also was their first season opener at home since their inaugural game Oct. 8, 1993.
As for the Wild, if Friday was any indication, the NHL's return to Minnesota will feature plenty of physical play, lots of strong skating, solid goaltending and some determined efforts up and down the roster.
But these guys aren't going to make anyone forget the smooth-skating North Stars, who fled the Twin Cities for Dallas in 1993.
The Wild's inaugural lineup included four players making their NHL debuts. What's more, the 18 Minnesota skaters accounted for a meager 68 goals with their previous NHL teams last season. Or seven fewer than Paul Kariya (42) and Teemu Selanne (33) scored last season for the Ducks.
Minnesota's devotion to hard-nosed play and goalie Jamie McLennan's fine work in the net helped keep the Wild close Friday. The Wild dominated play for long stretches, but didn't accomplish much in the attacking zone until the Ducks were whistled for simultaneous minors 11:30 into the game.
With Ladislav Kohn in the penalty box for elbowing and Niclas Havelid off for slashing, the Wild unleashed its offensive fury. Nine shots later, the Wild still had nothing on the scoreboard.
Hebert turned them away, even taking one blistering slap shot off his mask. An alert Duck slapped the rebound out of harm's way.
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