DETROIT – Mike Modano was nervous before making his debut with his hometown Detroit Red Wings.
It didn’t take long for him to feel at ease.
Modano scored on his first shot early in the first period to give the Red Wings a two-goal lead and they went on to beat the Anaheim Ducks 4-0 on Friday night in the season opener for both teams.
“I didn’t sleep much last night and this afternoon was a little restless as well,” he said. “It was a great start, then I was able to relax and enjoy the moment a little more.”
Modano signed with the Red Wings in August after the Dallas Stars decided they didn’t want him for a 21st season. The Livonia, Mich., native leads all U.S.-born NHL players with 558 goals and 1,360 points.
The 40-year-old Modano leads all active players with 23 points in season-opening games.
“Mike is a real good player who is going to be a big part of things,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “Mike is a great fit and he’s going to have a lot of fun.”
Modano scored 24 seconds after Johan Franzen in the first period, then Pavel Datsyuk and Dan Cleary scored in the second to turn the game. The rout turned a frisky game into such a fight-filled evening that even stars Datsyuk and Corey Perry dropped the gloves and threw punches.
Detroit’s Datsyuk has won the Lady Byng trophy four times, getting recognized as the player who best exhibits sportsmanship and gentlemanly play combined with playing ability.
“It’s too bad for him,” Babcock joked. “Now, he can’t win the Lady Byng.”
Jimmy Howard was able to ease into the season with the big lead and without much action, needing to make just 21 saves for his fourth career shutout.
“It’s special,” Howard said. “The guys did a great job in front of me, it was one shot and done all night.”
The Ducks, meanwhile, found out just how much they are going to miss defenceman Scott Niedermayer.
Hiller was peppered with shots, some of which might not have gotten to him if Nidermayer didn’t choose to retire last summer.
Anaheim is now forced to count on 18-year-old Cam Fowler, the 12th pick in the draft, to contribute right away.
“He’s a special athlete, I’m telling you,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said.
Babcock, who relied on Nidermayer’s sound play and steady leadership to help Canada win Olympic gold this year and coached him in Anaheim, said the 18-year-veteran’s retirement created an “unbelievable” void for the Ducks.
“You’re not going to replace that,” Babcock said. “Fowler is going to be a good player, but he’s just a kid.”
Detroit doesn’t have too many youngsters on its team, starting the season with the oldest team in the NHL with an average age of 31.
Modano is relatively old and yet, he’s still pretty good.
“He’s a world class player,” Carlyle said. “Everybody says his skill set has been diminished, but not every time I see him play.”
The Ducks are hoping they don’t drop from the rank of relevant teams after hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2007, leaning on younger players such as Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and Perry to help them avoid missing the playoffs for a second straight year for the first time since the turn of the century.
Hiller, in the first year of his US$18-million contract extension, will probably have to play sensational in net behind an inexperienced defence to give Anaheim a shot to compete in the highly competitive Western Conference.
Hiller was very unhappy with his and the team’s poor start.
“Looks like we weren’t ready to play,” said Hiller, who made 39 saves. “Probably starts with me and goes all the way through.”
Franzen and Modano had a lot to do with that with Hiller’s rough start.
The burly player known as “Mule” flicked a shot from the corner that got past Hiller 5:11 into the game. After the Ducks failed to clear the puck, Detroit’s Brad Stuart dumped it between the circles, Cleary passed it back to Modano and his wrist shot from just inside the right circle went into the net.
“Youlove to get that first one out of the way first game,” Modano said. “Then, you can relax and kind of get into your little comfort zone and get into the flow of the games and the season.”
NOTES: Ducks D Andy Sutton didn’t play in the third because he broke his right thumb after getting in a fight with Detroit’s Ruslan Salei midway through the second period. Sutton is scheduled to be evaluated Saturday to determine how long he will be out of the lineup. … Red Wings D Jonathan Ericsson had back spasms in the opener, didn’t play after the first period and will miss at least one game, getting replaced Saturday at Chicago by Jakub Kindl. … Red Wings GM Ken Holland said he expects F Kirk Maltby to accept an assignment to the minors or to retire by Monday or Tuesday.