Best of the NHL for Sunday, Jan. 20: Harding shuts out Stars

This is best of the NHL, a look at the best plays, performances, and players around the league on a nightly basis.

Best Of The NHL: Jan. 20, 2013

Sunday was another day of openers and debuts for a number of teams. Those four poor saps that didn't get to take part in Saturday's triumphant return did so on Sunday. That would be the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames, who played each other, the Edmonton Oilers and the Buffalo Sabres.

Meanwhile in Minnesota it was the second game in as many nights and this guy who they signed in the offseason, somebody named Zach Parise, did one thing that was noteworthy in the first period, scored his first goal in a Wild sweater. He had a lot of ice with a 4-on-3 situation and he didn't waste it, blasting one home from the high slot.

So far, things looking so good in Minnesota, just how they drew it up.

Before we get started, on the usuals, here's tonight's odd-ball category. Best tantrum goes to Mike Smith for going crazy in Phoenix. GOALIE SMASH!

Best Team Performance: Pittsburgh Penguins

Maybe you could put the Rangers down for Worst Team Performance, but it seemed like the Penguins were just skating circles around the Rangers all night long, particularly in the second period. It was so bad that the boo birds have already shown up at the Garden. For a team that has such high hopes, an 0-2 start isn't good.

How dominant were the Penguins? They forced John Tortorella to yank Henrik Lundqvist in the second period after the fourth Penguins goal of the game. Last season in 82 games, Tortorella never once made a mid-game goalie change.

It's not like Lundqvist was to blame for the goals and Tortorella probably figured a little rest couldn't hurt his Vezina winner after he started on Saturday in Boston, but it was still jarring to see.

For the Penguins, much of the dominance comes from the usual sources: Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. Malkin has looked so good in the first two games, you'd think he was playing during the lockout or something. Funny how that works, isn't it? Either way, James Neal has been the beneficiary as he scored goals Nos. 2 and 3 with a shot that certainly looks to be in its customary form as well.

Oh, and this power play unit is pretty incredible, while we're on the subject. When you can put Sidney Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz on the ice at the same, it's no wonder they have four goals in eight power-play attempts.

Best Save Of The Night: Logan Couture

Couture, is that right? Yup.

The Sharks looked rather awful in the first period. Well everybody except Antti Niemi, who bailed out the Sharks and kept them in the game. They turned it on later offensively to take the lead and then Logan Couture helped repay the favor by stopping what looked like a sure goal with his own kick save.

Save of the night? Couture seemed to think so.

Best Story Of The Night: Josh Harding

The Wild got that one goal from Zach Parise and that was it. Much the same as they struggled to do last year, they didn't have much luck on offense, scoring no goals when the Stars had even four players on the ice. It's OK, though, they had Josh Harding in net.

Harding, starting for the Wild as Nicklas Backstrom took the opener on Saturday, was playing in his first game since it was announced he has multiple sclerosis, something he vowed wouldn't end his career. He made quick work on that promise on Sunday by shutting out what looked to be a very potent Dallas Stars offense after their opening game for a 1-0 Wild win.

In total Harding made 24 saves for the shutout, not a terribly tough workload. Still, that doesn't take away from the good vibes of Harding's great game after the announcement of his medical issue. For many he will be an inspiration just by playing, imagine how much more he'll inspire if he keeps turning in performances like this.

Not to be lost in this, while the Wild might have had the same problems as last season of not scoring much, they did do a good job keeping the puck on their sticks and outshooting the Stars, 32-24. That's a nice start.

Best Player: Thomas Vanek

The Sabres were one of four teams that didn't have the chance to play on Saturday, so it gave them a chance to see what was happening with the other teams and players. Undoubtedly Thomas Vanek saw all the accolades Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne were getting for their four-point games that he wanted to one-up them.

Vanek was in on all five Sabres goals in their 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers -- he scored two of them, one via the empty net -- and was terrific from start to finish for Buffalo. To say people don't know him across the league would of course be incorrect, but Vanek doesn't get enough attention. A few more games like that and it will change.

We'd hear it from the angry Philly fans if we didn't mention that Vanek was a bit fortuitous to get an empty net for that fifth point thanks to two calls that wiped out potential goals, but either way he was the best player on the ice in Buffalo. Even his assists were impressive.

Best Shot: Jordan Eberle

The Edmonton Oilers were the last team to begin their season and they were a little slow when it came time to begin as well. But Jordan Eberle got them going with one nasty backhander to beat Roberto Luongo just before the end of the second period.

We already knew the Oilers were stacked with talent and Eberle is a major reason why, but wow, that's an awesome finish. Could Roberto Luongo have played it better and stopped it? Sure, but credit where it's due, Eberle roofed it from close quarters.

The Oilers would complete the comeback in earnest by taking out the Canucks in a shootout for the 3-2 win. You can see the Oilers are getting closer and closer to breaking out in the big way that's expected and this is Exhibit A.

Meanwhile, the Canucks are 0-1-1 after back-to-back home losses to the Ducks and Oilers to start the season. Don't think that's how they envisioned things going.

Best Hit: Brooks Orpik

If you had forgotten what a big, clean open-ice hit looks like, Brooks Orpik reminded you late in the Penguins' win by leveling Chris Kreider of the Rangers.

Kreider is still a rookie and it shows.

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