AEROS 3, MIGHTY DUCKS 1HOUSTON, Texas
Mike Smith made a triumphant return to the ice with 35 saves in his first game since February 5, as the Houston Aeros
beat the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks 3-1 in their home opener at Toyota Center. Mark Cullen scored a power play goal, Brent Burns added an unassisted shorthanded tally and Kirby Law tallied an even strength goal all in the first period for Houston (1-1-0-0).
Alexei Smirnov scored a shorthanded goal and Frederic Cassivi turned aside 18 shots for the Ducks, who had won two straight on the road to begin the season.
Smith (photo by Bob Levey)missed the final two months of the 2003-04 season due to injury. Then playing with Utah, his last start was February 5 at Toyota Center, and he hadnt won since a 1-0, 24-save shutout of Grand Rapids January 30. He saw no action this pre-season due to a different injury. The netminder made 12 saves in the first period, 10 in the second and 13 in the third, and he got three first-period goals to help the cause
Houston is in Chicago Wednesday.
The Aeros needed only 2:16 to get on the board, with Michael Holmqvist in the box for elbowing. A hustling Cullen, behind the net, forced Cassivi into a quick clear along the far boards. The puck came to Patrick Traverse at the left point, and he touched a pass to Cullen at the left doorstop. The diminutive Cullen, a scratch in Houstons season-opening 2-1 loss in San Antonio last night, tipped the puck into an empty cage for his first goal.
Houston made it 2-0 only 2:16 later on Burns unassisted shorthanded goal. Burns jarred the puck away from two Ducks near the bench and got ahead of the pack, slipping a backhander under Cassivi for his first goal with the Aeros.
Smirnov got the Ducks within 2-1 at 9:26 of the first with a shorthanded goal. Burns lost the puck near center ice, and Joel Stepp fed Smirnov ahead of everyone else. Smirnov faked from the right, waited for Smith to commit and lifted it over the fallen netminder.
Laws highlight-reel goal with 2:45 left in the first restored Houstons edge to two goals. With the teams 4-on-4, Zbynek Michalek fed Ray Giroux at the left point. Giroux threw the puck on net, and the Aeros captain leaped in the air and tipped the puck with his stick by Cassivi for his first goal with the Aeros.
Cullen nearly made it 4-1 midway through the second, but Cassivi held his ground as Cullen broke in shorthanded.
The Ducks continued to put the pressure on Smith in the third period, but the netminder turned away all 13 shots sent his way. Giroux made the defensive play of the night when he got back to end Joel Perraults breakaway attempt with five minutes remaining.
Houston went 1-for-5 on the power play, while Cincinnati finished 0-for-5. Notes:
The Aeros were minus-18 in goal differential in the first period a season ago, second to last in the AHL. Last night, they were outscored 2-0 in a 2-1 loss in San Antonio.
The teams dont meet again until February 25, and they play five games between then and April 8.
Houston won for only the second time in its last six home openers (2-3-1).
There was an icing call in the third period in which Cincinnatis own player shot the puck from behind his net the length of the ice. The faceoff eventually went to center ice after a brief discussion.
Houstons scratches were Chris Heid, Erik Reitz, Mikko Koivu, Junior Lessard and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
The Aeros, swept in two games by Cincinnati in the West Division Qualifying Round in April, were winless in their last seven games with the Ducks (0-4-3).
Smith improved to 4-0-0 in his career versus the Ducks.
The Aeros reassigned goalie Kyle Kettles to ECHL Louisiana prior to the gameWhat they are saying: Aeros head coach Todd McLellan
"Scoring early wasnt as important as establishing our game early. Anyone who watched us play last night knows we didnt do that. Tonight we played a simpler game."
"Smitty did a tremendous job. You can tell hes played at this level. Hes big and he plays the angles well. One thing that impresses me, and we havent had someone here who can do this in awhile, is how well he handles the puck. Hes like having a third defenseman back there." Aeros goalie Mike Smith
"The big thing for me is to see the shots so I can put the rebounds where I want them. Ive got to give a lot of credit to my D, they let me see all the shots."
"You become a better goalie when you have competition. (Josh Harding, a second-round pick who played last night) is a great goalie and he had a great game once he got his nerves out."