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Aggressive Ducks Get After It

Their new emphasis on skill pays off quickly in a 5-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.

October 06, 2005|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — There were many promises made when the Mighty Ducks revamped their franchise and changed their identity to fit what they hoped would be a wide-open NHL after many years of putting defense first.

Change may be good.

The Ducks put an emphasis on skill in their post-lockout lineup, and the philosophy paid immediate dividends as they defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, 5-3, to open the season Wednesday night in the United Center.

In a night of new beginnings for the team and the league, the Ducks' major moves following the 310-day lockout had an instant effect. Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne, the two key free-agent signings, each scored and they also got a clinching goal from Rob Niedermayer, who signed a four-year contract extension.

More importantly, they often harassed the Blackhawks' new All-Star goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin with aggressive forechecking that forced turnovers. The five goals are the most in a season opener for the Ducks in their 12-year history, taking the steam out of a spirited crowd of 16,533 that attended the first regular-season game in 18 months.

"One of the things we've been stressing, especially with so many changes, is that we want to get off to a good start," said Rob Niedermayer, whose third-period tally gave the Ducks a two-goal lead. "We want to have everybody feeling good about their game."

The biggest beneficiary in the new league-wide crackdown on obstruction was home-grown product Joffrey Lupul, the Ducks' first-round pick in 2002 who scored two consecutive goals to give the Ducks the lead for good.

Goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere made it stand by making 36 saves, including all nine shots in the third period as he looked sharp in his first game with smaller equipment imposed by the league.

"We did a great job killing [penalties] today," Giguere said. "We played really well in the third period. I think we should be proud of that."

Lupul showed flashes of his immense ability in a strong rookie season in 2003-04, but Duck Coach Randy Carlyle said Lupul is a vastly different player from the one he saw last year in the American Hockey League during the lockout.

It was apparent late in the first period when Lupul scored a short-handed goal. He stole the puck from Brent Seabrook near the red line, steamed in alone along the left flank and went between Khabibulin's legs.

"We talked before the game that if you see a bouncing puck or you see the guy's back turned, you go in hard [after it]," said Lupul, who had 13 goals and 34 points as a rookie.

Lupul continued to pester the defense in the second period. The right wing grabbed a loose puck in the Chicago zone, made a sharp cut toward the slot and put another shot between Khabibulin's pads for his third career two-goal game and a 3-1 lead.

"That's a skill player," Carlyle said. "That's a good read and he's got hands to finish. He wasn't selected where he was in the draft because he's a bad player."

Mark Bell opened the scoring for the Blackhawks at 8 minutes 22 seconds of the first period but the Ducks used their speedy lineup to gain control and pepper Khabibulin, whom the Blackhawks pried away from Stanley Cup-champion Tampa Bay for $27 million over four years.

Khabibulin made a brilliant save of a shot by Andy McDonald in close but couldn't corral the rebound. Petr Sykora got the puck at the point and let loose a slap shot that Khabibulin stopped but Selanne, parked in front, slid in the rebound for his first goal as a Duck since March 4, 2001, one day before he was traded to San Jose.


Left wing Jonathan Hedstrom did not play because of a strained right groin....Center Sergei Fedorov took five stitches in his lip in the first period after getting clipped by the stick of Chicago's Matthew Barnaby.

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