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Personal challenges for Teemu Selanne starting season in Finland

Starting the season in Europe is certainly a tough way to start the season. Between adjusting to ridiculous time changes, language barriers, and jet lag, it’s a difficult way to kick start a new year. The good thing is that each team and just about every player faces the same set of challenges overseas as they try to prepare themselves for the 82 game grind.

Then there’s someone like Teemu Selanne. For Selanne, starting his (probable) final season in Finland would be like Wayne Gretzky returning and starting the season in Toronto—only if Gretzky hadn’t played a season there in twenty years. From the moment the NHL Premiere was announced and the Ducks found out they were headed to Helsinki, Selanne knew the 2011-12 season was going to be unlike anything else he’s ever experienced.

Before the Ducks left for Europe, Selanne was asked about starting the season in Finland for the first time in his career.

“I don’t really know what to expect,” Selanne said. “Obviously, it was 2003 [World Championships] the last time we played there. It’s going to be fun. Obviously, they sold out the game so quickly and people are telling me that’s what they’re really talking about there. They’re pretty spoiled. This is the third or fourth time when an NHL team has started the season there; so they’ve seen a lot of NHL games there. But I think this is going to be a little more special.

“I think it’s going to be a great experience,” Selanne continued. “Obviously, it’s a very special place for me. That’s my hometown and we’re going to play against my home team, so it’s going to be very exciting. It’s going to be like a zoo too. It’s going to be a lot of people, [people] trying to take a piece of that week. But I think it’s going to be a great experience, I’m very excited.”

Selanne also acknowledged that there would be challenges for the team starting in Europe. Yet he saw the silver lining of the team traveling together as a bonding experience to start the season.

“Obviously, the trip is going to be a little tough,” Selanne said. “We’re going there, 10 hours time difference, and coming back. But I really believe that’s going to be really good for our team to start the season right away—with hanging around together for four or five days before the first game and get the team feeling again. I think that’s going to be very important process for us. I’m looking forward to going there. I know it’s going to be a great experience for my teammates.”

For Selanne personally, it’s going to be tougher for him than his teammates. He’s revered in Finland and dealing with an entire new set of circumstances.

“People need tickets and people ask if I can come there,” Selanne said. “Obviously, I have to be tough with that. There’s no time to do too much. We are there to win the games and start focusing on the season… Obviously we need to stay focused there.

“It’s going to be tough. I already heard that my PR guy back home has 150 interviews ready. I said, you know what, forget it… They come here and they always expect you to have time. It’s just funny—it works though.”

The trip got off to a good start as the Ducks won their final preseason game against Jokerit in overtime. Now, the real heavy lifting gets started when the regular season kicks off against the Buffalo Sabres on Friday in Helsinki. Selanne and the Ducks will try to navigate all of the external distractions and put their best game on the ice—because at the end of the crazy circus, there are two important regular season games to be played.

Hitchcock believes Blues’ Allen is ‘locked up mentally’

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes the third period save against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 8, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Things were already rough for the St. Louis Blues and their goalies (particularly still-pretty-newly crowned No. 1 Jake Allen) heading into Thursday, but the Washington Capitals really highlighted those issues in a 7-3 thrashing.

Blues fans and management must be wondering, then: what’s wrong with their goalies, especially with Allen? Head coach Ken Hitchcock seems resigned to allowing him to fight through it, if nothing else.

“There’s a lot going on right now. … He’s kind of locked up mentally and he’s going to have to fight through this,” Hitchock said, according to Lou Korac of NHL.com. “What we see at practice, we like. That’s why we put him in quite frankly.”

Alex Pietrangelo did the typical deflecting thing, nothing that this is a “team” and that there are “no individuals.”

Still, Hitchcock’s longer press conference makes you wonder how much trust there is in Allen and Carter Hutton.

From Hitch’s perspective, it sure sounds like he believes that the Blues are over-correcting to try to limit “goals, shots.” By trying to do too much, they might be putting themselves in bad positions. And that might stem from a lack of confidence in the guys in net, or in the team’s work in their own zone overall.

Let’s be honest. As much as we can play chicken-or-the-egg as far as a defense’s impact on a goalie, it’s tough to explain away save percentages under .900 in the modern NHL. At some point, your team needs more stops.

With the races for the lower spots in the Western Conference’s playoff picture seemingly tightening up, the Blues don’t have a ton of time to figure this out.

Capitals shine glaring light on Blues’ goalie woes

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save during the first period against the San Jose Sharks in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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If you’re reaction to the headline “Something is off about the St. Louis Blues” was “Yeah, their goaltending,” then Thursday only emboldened that opinion.

It wasn’t just that the Washington Capitals bombarded the Blues by a score of 7-3. It’s that they really didn’t need to fire a whole lot of shots on goal to get to seven.

Here’s a harsh rule of thumb: when both of your goalies play in a game and each one barely makes more saves than goals allowed, that’s an awful night. Take a look at what Jake Allen and Carter Hutton went through:

Allen: six saves, four goals allowed in 25:11 time on ice
Hutton: five saves, three goals allowed in 35:49

Allen got pulled from the contest twice, by the way. He’s been pulled from four games since Dec. 30. Woof.

Even before these horrendous performances, the Blues goalies have been shaky. Hutton came into tonight with an ugly .898 save percentage; Allen wasn’t much better with a .900 mark.

Those are the type of numbers that would make Dallas Stars fans cringe, or at least experience some uncomfortable familiarity.

Now, is it all on Hutton and Allen? Much like with the Stars’ embattled goalies, much of the struggles probably come down to a team struggling in front of them.

Even so, if you assign more of the blame to Allen and Hutton, nights like this Capitals thrashing definitely strengthen your argument. Yikes.

Rangers overwhelm Leafs, make life pretty easy for Lundqvist in win

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 19:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers faces a shot in the warm-up prior to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Heading into Thursday, many were wondering how the New York Rangers will handle Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles. Instead, the focus shifted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ difficulties, perhaps specifically in dealing with Morgan Rielly‘s absence.

The Rangers handily won this one 5-2, at least giving Lundqvist the win. He wasn’t especially busy, stopping 23 out of 25 shots, so you can probably file his story under “To be continued.”

Lundqvist wasn’t oblivious to his team’s impressive overall play.

Really, it was all about the waves of attackers the Rangers can send at opponents and the trouble that caused for the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t the easiest night for Frank Corrado, in particular, who took a couple costly penalties.

The Rangers’ next two games come in a road contest vs. the Red Wings on Sunday and a home game against the Kings on Monday. Perhaps those matches will serve as a better barometer for where Lundqvist’s really at, as he passed tonight’s test … but it wasn’t a particularly difficult one.

So, is Mike Condon actually really good? He certainly was against Columbus

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 8: Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators stands at the bench during a break in a game against the Edmonton Oilers at Canadian Tire Centre on January 8, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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Considering their numbers heading in, many were perplexed when the Ottawa Senators essentially replaced Andrew Hammond with Mike Condon. Now many are perplexed by just how strong Condon’s often been for Ottawa.

Thursday might stand as the prime example that this guy could be better than many expected.

The Columbus Blue Jackets dominated much of the play, generating a 42-28 shots on goal advantage, but Ottawa ended up winning 2-0 tonight.

Condon already came into tonight with a solid save percentage (.915 before this shutout), and he’s now won four of his last five games. Three of his four career shutouts have come this season.

Ignoring his one relief appearance with Pittsburgh this season for the sake of simplicity, just consider his tough times with Montreal last season. He went 21-25-6 with a shaky .903 save percentage.

This marks just his 21st start and 23rd appearance of this season, so it’s not a guaranteee for future results. Still … it’s another example that goalies are as just about as unpredictable as they are crucial to a team’s fate.

More and more, it seems like Condon might just be a difference-maker, and in the positive sense this time around.