NHL Premiere Series - Stockholm

Players understand NHL Premiere games in Europe are business… and pleasure

The NHL Premiere in Europe is a nice novelty to start the season for fans and players alike. But now that the idea of starting seasons in Europe has been around for a few years, there are players who have already experienced the novelty and are going back for second and third trips as part of the NHL’s European showcase. It’s great to see new cities and experience different cultures—but at the end of the day, there are important points on the line for teams that will desperately need wins later in the season.

Members of both the Kings and the Ducks have experienced what it’s like to start the season in Europe. Both teams kicked off the season yesterday—both play their second game of back-to-back situations this afternoon. Even though the two teams had very different results yesterday, they both learned lessons from their trip to London to start the 2007-08 season.

Kings’ captain Dustin Brown traveled with the team in September of 2007 and says that the team learned what not to do this time around. Judging by their 3-2 overtime victory over the Rangers to start the season, they must be doing something right.

“We went over there really early and we were over there for a long time which I don’t know necessarily helped,” Brown said. “And then having days off [the ice] helped. We’re on the ice a lot as it is, you travel a lot getting over there and maybe having a day, We have one scheduled, I think is a good idea. Because after all that travel, you might get more out of a day off than you would getting on the ice for an hour. It kind of refreshes the mind and the body.”

But it’s not all negative lessons for the guys who have been over there. Ducks star Teemu Selanne played in the games in London as well and saw team chemistry built with the long trip to start the season. Despite the Ducks’ 4-1 loss to start the season, he thinks the team can make the most of the trip this time as well.

From Selanne: “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.”

For teams like the Kings and the Ducks, the hardest part of the entire trip is the time change. From Anaheim to Helsinki, it’s a nine hour time difference. There are eight time zones that separate Los Angeles from Stockholm. NHL players are very set in their routines and they’re playing games when their bodies still think its 10:00am. Brown explained that no matter how many times you do it, it’s still difficult to get the body to adjust.

“It’s an eight/nine hour time change.” Brown shared. “And that’s the hard part right, the battle, right there. The travel is hard, but when you’re in a three time zone range, you can get by. This is [different]. I’ve done it one time before in the NHL—I’ve done it numerous times with the World Juniors and World Championships—but it’s a matter of just trying to get on a schedule as soon as you can. You’re only over there for five or six days so it’s tough.”

Kings defenseman Matt Greene shared Brown’s thoughts about the travel:

“The time change messes you up a little bit, but they did a good job of scheduling though.” Greene said. “It’s pretty spaced out. It’s going to be road games. That’s it. That’s how we have to approach it. Just go with that and get some wins… I don’t think we’ll have too much off time.”

That can be easier said than done. Of course it’s important to think of the games in Europe as everyday road games, but the fact remains that these players are in different countries—for some, it’s the first time experiencing Europe and its different cultures.

Rob Scuderi understands the perfect mix of business and pleasure. The stay-at-home defenseman traveled to Stockholm as a member of the Penguins—a team that ended up winning the Cup.

“We’re over there to play hockey and win some hockey games,” Scuderi said. “But at the same time, you can’t turn a blind eye to try to enjoy it at the same time.”

The games are important—four points in the standings can mean the difference between home-ice advantage and missing the playoffs completely in the Western Conference. Scuderi’s fellow Kings defenseman Greene agrees.

“You just get yourself ready,” Greene told Pro Hockey Talk. “You’re going to be on the road for two weeks. We’ve done that a few times with the travel and everything. We just gotta be ready. We’ll be gone for a while, but we’re only playing a few games. We’re only playing four regular season games. We just gotta make sure we get up for all of those and be ready because those are big points. In the West, it’s always tight. We have to make sure we get these points right away.”

Understanding the different routine changes each player is dealing with is something to watch for as you watch the NHL Premiere games unfold from Europe. The lessons that the Kings and Ducks learned in London should give them an advantage—or at least negate the daunting time zone disadvantage.

Regardless, these are experiences that the players will keep with them for the rest of their lives. And from a professional standpoint, the team bonding – and the points – are things the teams will keep with them throughout the season.

Team Europe’s next challenge: Beat the unbeatable

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Team Canada salute the fans following their 5-3 win over Team Russia during the World Cup of Hockey at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at Air Canada Centre on September 24, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)
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Team Europe has already done more than anybody expected them to do at the World Cup by reaching the Final thanks to their stunning overtime win against Sweden in the semifinal on Sunday.

Just getting to this point, after beating the United States and Sweden — two of the world’s biggest hockey powers — along the way is a major accomplishment that would have seemed to be a nearly impossible task just two weeks ago.

Now they have one more seemingly impossible task in front of them: Beat Canada.

And not just beat Canada, but beat them twice.

In only three games.

For any team in this tournament that would have been a tall task in the championship round. Not only does Canada bring an insanely deep roster to the table that has multiple MVP candidates, Norris Trophy candidates, and Vezina Trophy candidates on it, but their recent play on the ice matches the absurdity of the roster on paper.

They don’t just win, they dominate teams.

Since the start of the 2014 Olympics this is what Team Canada has done to its opponents in the two major best-on-best tournaments it has played:

  1. They are 10-0
  2. They have outscored teams by a 36-9 margin
  3. They are coming off of a semifinal game against Russia where they nearly put up 50 shots on goal in a regulation game
  4. They have allowed more than one goal in just two of those games, and more than two goals just once

The games haven’t even been as close as the final scores would indicate because the final scores haven’t always reflected the level of dominance on display. A one or two goal deficit against these guys and their style of play usually feels like a 50 goal deficit.

On paper, this seems like it should already be over before it even begins.

But the beauty of a short series is that even when the two teams don’t match up on paper, random things can happen, mostly because of the X-factor that is goaltending.

Right now Europe’s Jaroslav Halak is putting quite a story together in this tournament. He has helped underdogs knock off superior teams in the past when he gets on a roll like the one he is on now.

It is going to take all of that and more to help Europe beat Canada two times over the next week.

They have already done what seemed to be the impossible to get to this point. Now they just have to do what seems to be the impossible again.

Twice.

Jaroslav Halak carried Team Europe to the World Cup Final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Jaroslav Halak #41 of Team Europe celebrates a 3-2 overtime victory over Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Jaroslav Halak is doing it again.

He is taking an undermanned team, one that doesn’t match up with its opponents on paper, and carrying it to a level nobody expected it to reach.

He did it during the 2010 NHL playoffs as a member of the Montreal Canadiens when he helped a No. 8 seed upset that year’s Presidents’ Trophy winning team in the first round, and then the defending Stanley Cup champions in the second round. The Canadiens were mostly outplayed in each series, but Halak was so good, and so dominant, that it didn’t matter. He was the single biggest reason his team reached the Eastern Conference Final that year.

He showed how much of an impact a hot goalie can make on a team a short series.

He is kind of doing it again this year at the World Cup for Team Europe as it is now in the championship series getting ready to take on Team Canada.

The team in front of him isn’t getting outplayed to the same degree that the 2010 Canadiens were in those playoffs, but Halak has still been his team’s best player and the biggest factor in its current success. His .946 save percentage through four games is among the best in the tournament, while his 37 save effort in the semifinal on Sunday was probably his best one so far (and that includes his opening game shutout against the United States).

The European team has its share of forward talent up front. Anze Kopitar is one of the best two-way players in hockey and has been spectacular in this tournament. Marian Gaborik and Thomas Vanek are former 40-goal scorers in the NHL, while Frans Nielsen has always been one of the more underrated players in the league.

But the defense, even with a great player like Roman Josi, doesn’t really come close to matching some other teams in the tournament.

It has two players that don’t currently have NHL contracts (Dennis Seidenberg and Christian Ehrhoff). Zdeno Chara is 38 years old and has clearly slowed down from where he was a few years ago.

As a team, they have the oldest roster in the tournament, and based on their pre-tournament games it looked like they were going to be nothing more than a minor speed bump for the rest of their teams in their group.

Put all of that together and it put a ton of pressure on Halak to be on top of his game to give his team a chance to even stay competitive, let alone win.

He has done that and more so far in the tournament, and it is the single biggest reason the team that opened the tournament as the biggest long shot to win the whole thing (33/1) is in the final.

From a big picture standpoint Halak is not the best goalie in hockey. But sometimes in a short tournament all you need is a good goalie to get on a hot streak. And he is still capable of putting together those streaks that can carry a team, and he is doing it again in this tournament just as he did in the 2010 playoffs.

Stunner: Team Europe beats Sweden, advances to World Cup Final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Marian Gaborik #12 of Team Europe is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a second period goal against Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at  Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)
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When the World Cup began earlier this month, Team Europe, a collection of players from eight European countries that did not have their own team in the tournament, was thought to be the weakest team in the field.

Not necessarily a bad team, but one that seemed like it would have trouble keeping up with the hockey superpowers that made up the remainder of the field. That thinking seemed to be confirmed in the pre-tournament games when the North American young stars team skated them out of the building in what the European team admitted was a wakeup call.

All of that is why they still have to actually play the games, and in a short tournament like this anything can happen. 

In this case, anything did happen.

Thanks to their 3-2 overtime win over Team Sweden on Sunday afternoon in the World Cup semifinals, Team Europe has clinched a spot in the World Cup final series and will take on Canada in a best-of-three round that begins on Tuesday night.

It’s been an incredible and almost unbelievable run so far Europe. They frustrated the United States in their opener and shut them out, beat the Czech Republic in overtime, and then on Sunday shut down Sweden to advance to the final. 

The biggest part of their success has to be the play of their goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who has been their best player the entire tournament.

On Sunday, he stopped 37 out of 39 shots and improved his save percentage in the tournament to .946.

The other big star for Team Europe on Sunday was Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar who scored a pair of goals, including the overtime winner.

After Marian Gaborik scored late in the second period to tie the game at one, Tatar opened the third period with a goal just 12 seconds in when he followed up his own shot and beat Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist to give Europe its first lead of the game.

Sweden’s Erik Karlsson scored late in the third period to send the game to overtime.

Europe now haas to get ready to face a Canadian team that is 4-0 in the tournament and outscored its opponents by a 19-6 margin.

Canada beat Europe in the first round 4-1.

Sounds like Blues will be more aggressive

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 06:  Head coach Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues watches from the bench during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 6, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Blues defeated the Coyotes 6-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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With their former captain now a member of the Boston Bruins and their coach on year-to-year deals, it’s appropriate to say that the St. Louis Blues are in a period of transitions.

It’s also a convenient choice of words, as it sounds like the Blues are going to change the way they transition on the ice.

That’s the indication given by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and players like Chris Porter approve.

“The play in the neutral zone will fit this team great with the speed and the size that they already have in place,” Porter said. “I don’t think it’s a huge adjustment for the guys, I think it’s just a little tweak here or there.”

Perhaps hiring Mike Yeo had something to do with taking a more modern approach?

Either way, getting more aggressive makes a lot of sense for the Blues, at least on paper.

With David Backes and Troy Brouwer out of town, younger and speedier players get to take more of a role. Some Blues fans will probably view this tweak – big or small – as a long time coming.

Of course, there’s a give-and-take when it comes to situations like these, and becoming more attack-minded sure makes retaining Kevin Shattenkirk that much more important. The underrated blueliner still expects to be moved despite being named an alternate captain, yet you wonder if these changes might prompt GM Doug Armstrong to try to pull some strings to keep him around.

(Giving Alexander Steen a contract extension means that much less room for the likes of Shattenkirk.)

Even if the Blues eventually need to part ways with Shattenkirk, there are some other nice assets who can use this change as a catalyst to push this team up another level.

In an ideal scenario, the Blues would enjoy those improvements and keep Shattenkirk to reap those rewards.