The Czech forward scored his first two goals as an Edmonton Oiler to lead the NHL’s Western Conference champions to a 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames in their home opener Thursday. Oiler goalie Dwayne Roloson turned aside 31 shots to preserve the win before 16,839 fans in a penalty-filled affair at Rexall Place.
“The game went well. You want to get that first win and release that pressure,” said Sykora, who was signed in the off-season as an unrestricted free agent.
Defenceman Daniel Tjarnqvist also scored for Edmonton while Sykora’s linemate Ales Hemsky chipped in two assists.
Jarome Iginla replied for Calgary.
The teams play again Saturday night in the southern Alberta city.
It was the 29th time the 29-year-old Sykora had scored twice in a game in his 10-season career that began in New Jersey. He has yet to score a hat trick.
Hemsky, he said, was the difference.
“He’s not afraid to beat the guys one on one. He loves to skate with the puck. He always creates odd-man situations. He’s a modern hockey player.”
Miikka Kiprusoff made 19 saves for Calgary in a game that featured numerous end-to-end rushes and forced both goalies to make spectacular saves on two-on-ones and against one-timers from close in.
The Flames went zero for nine on the power play and that, said Iginla, told the tale.
“We had the chances. On the power play we’ve got to be better,” he said.
Sykora opened the scoring with about five minutes to go in the opening frame after Hemsky drove hard to the net, then tried and failed to beat Kiprusoff on the backhand. The puck rebounded straight out and Sykora swooped in to bang it home.
He scored the eventual game-winner three minutes later with the Oilers on a two-man advantage, taking a Jarret Stoll pass in the high slot and one-timing a low slapshot past Kiprusoff.
The Flames wasted a golden opportunity in the first period when Iginla was taken down on a breakaway by defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron and awarded a penalty shot.
On the shot, Calgary’s captain tried a backhand deke but Roloson stayed with him laterally across the crease for the pad save.
Iginla said the ice was good so he came in at a wide angle to Roloson’s left.
“He made a good save. He made a stretch-out,” he said.
Roloson said he and Iginla know each other’s moves well.
“I was trying to stay with him and I was lucky enough to get a piece of (the puck).”
Tjarnqvist sealed the Oilers win midway through the third period, again on a play initiated by Hemsky.
The Czech winger used his speed and shifty moves to penetrate the Flames’ defence, then turned and dished the puck to Tjarnqvist, who wristed a shot from the left faceoff circle over Kiprusoff’s shoulder and into the top far corner of the net.
Iginla broke Roloson’s shutout with just over five minutes left in the game with a snap shot from close in after taking cross-ice pass from Daymond Langkow.
Notes: Prior to the game, the Oilers raised their 2005-06 conference championship banner amid crowd cheers and a light show. The Oilers themselves, however, stayed in their dressing room. … The Oilers are 14-9-4 on opening night while Calgary is 11-13-10 … Oiler forward Ryan Smyth didn’t practise Wednesday due to a strained neck but took a regular shift in Thursday’s game. … The Oilers have said they’re using the Flames as a measuring stick this season. They were 3-5 against the Northwest Division champs last year and a woeful 1-4-1 the season before that.