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.

Lehtonen only lasts one period in Game 2

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Kari Lehtonen might have been more hit than miss in the playoffs going into today’s action, but Game 2 against St. Louis was certainly a start he’d like to forget.

Dallas outshot St. Louis 10-5 in the first frame, but the Blues still managed to take a 3-1 lead. Antti Niemi replaced Lehtonen for the second period which means, barring another goalie change, Lehtonen will actually end up with a sub-.500 save percentage this afternoon.

The numbers obviously look bad and it’s hard not to blame Lehtonen in the face of that, but the Blues deserve a lot of the credit for those goals. Patrik Berglund had a great shot on goal for the first marker, Joel Edmundson‘s first career playoff goal came after a nice setup by Troy Brouwer, and when Brouwer collected his own goal it was off of a rebound during a power play.

So to an extent, you could say Lehtonen looked bad due to circumstances that were very unfavorable to him. Nevertheless, the Stars needed to shake things up after what was unquestionably a bad period for them.

Dupuis, Jagr, Zuccarello are Masterton Trophy finalists

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 18:  Pascal Dupuis #9 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in action against the New York Rangers during their game at Madison Square Garden on December 18, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis, Florida’s Jaromir Jagr, and the Rangers’ Mats Zuccarello have been selected as the three finalists for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

The Masterton Trophy recognizes “the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” In 2015 it went to Devan Dubnyk, who struggled mightily in 2013-14, but dramatically turned his career around the following season and led the Minnesota Wild to the playoffs in the process.

Dupuis attempted to play in the 2015-16 campaign while taking blood thinners, but on Dec. 8 he announced that he would stop playing “because of a medical condition related to blood clots.”

Jagr celebrated his 44th birthday in February, but despite his age he managed to score 27 goals and 66 points in 79 contests this season. With that, he became the oldest player to reach the 60-point mark in a single NHL campaign.

Zuccarello played in 81 games and set career-highs with 26 goals and 61 points this season after suffering a skull fracture and brain contusion during the 2015 playoffs that left him temporarily unable to speak.

Can there be parallels drawn between the 2016 Ducks and 2014 Sharks?

Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler (17) takes the puck up ice on a breakaway with San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, center, and Ducks center Nate Thompson, right, trailing on the play during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
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The Anaheim Ducks might not have suffered a reverse sweep at the hands of one of their biggest rivals, but they seem to have reached a breaking point when it comes to playoff disappointments.

After firing head coach Bruce Boudreau, GM Bob Murray was highly critical of the team’s core, even noting that at this point he’s not a fan of long-term contracts. That was perhaps a swipe at how he feels Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf‘s eight-year $69 million and $66 million contracts have worked out thus far. Meanwhile Ryan Kesler‘s six-year deal worth roughly $41 million is about to begin.

After San Jose suffered its first round loss to the Los Angeles Kings in 2014, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said they were now becoming a “tomorrow team” and they began a cultural shift that included Joe Thornton losing the captaincy.

There are differences of course between the two situations. One notable one is that the Sharks’ guard was already starting to change hands in 2013-14. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were entering their mid-30s, but Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture were on the rise. Anaheim’s core of Getzlaf and Perry is significantly younger, but while Anaheim also has some promising forwards like Jakob Silfverberg, that generation of players doesn’t seem ready to carry the torch for the Ducks.

“We don’t have a lot of young guys in the lineup. … Today’s a much different feeling leaving the rink,” Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said, per the Los Angeles Times. “In those [previous] years there’s been a sense of hope. Today, there’s zero feeling like that.”

Perhaps the Anaheim Ducks will find hope by watching the rest of the 2016 playoffs. If the San Jose Sharks continue to succeed, they will be an example of a team that once underachieved, hit a critical low, but then managed to fix that in a relatively short time without a massive turnover in terms of on-ice personnel. While we’re at it, you could make a similar argument for the Washington Capitals.

Maybe Murray will look to those franchises for inspiration as he moves forward.

Capitals, Penguins nearly perfect at stopping third period comebacks

Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) and Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) chase down the puck during the first period of Game 2 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday, April 30, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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Pittsburgh only won by a single goal in Game 2 on Saturday and that deciding marker came with 4:28 minutes remaining in the third, but that contest had the potential to be far more one-sided.

The Capitals were outshot 28-10 through 40 minutes and were consequently leaning on goaltender Braden Holtby to keep things close.

“First two periods, I thought they were way better than us,” Washington coach Barry Trotz told CSN Mid-Atlantic. Or has Justin Williams put it, the Capitals “were getting embarrassed out there” during the first 40 minutes.

Washington did rebound in the third period, though it wasn’t enough to prevent the Penguins from evening this series at 1-1. That puts the pressure on Washington to take at least one game in Pittsburgh before the second round’s over.

Starting the game off strong is always going to be important, but that’s particularly true when talking about the Penguins and Capitals. Pittsburgh was 39-0-0 in the regular season when leading after 40 minutes while Washington was 37-0-1. So far in the playoffs, both teams are 4-0-0 when they have the lead after two periods.