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.

A deeper look into the Bruins’ 11-game losing streak against the Caps

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There are some streaks in professional sports that simply don’t make sense. How some teams continue to dominate others year after year even though coaches and rosters change is kind of weird.

One of those strange streaks was extended on Thursday night, as the Washington Capitals defeated the Boston Bruins for the 11th straight time. The last time the Bruins took down the Caps was in March of 2014. The B’s have made a coaching change, they’ve altered the roster, but they still can’t beat the Caps.

As Washington’s Barry Trotz pointed out earlier this month, every squad seems to have a “unicorn team”. On Dec. 5, Trotz’s team beat the San Jose Sharks for the first time since 2009. Fine, the Capitals and Sharks might not play each other that often, but that’s still an eight-year losing streak.

“Every team has a unicorn team, you do,” Trotz said at the time, per the team’s website. “I was talking to the Columbus broadcasters [on Saturday], and they said, ‘Do you know what your record is against Columbus?’ And I said, “I have no idea.’ They said, ‘It’s pretty good.’

“For years, Nashville was [the Blue Jackets’] unicorn. They could never beat them. I think every team has that. The ones that come to mind for me with this club are San Jose and Dallas. We’ve been a unicorn for a few franchises, too. I just think everybody has one of those.”

Trotz is right. The Capitals have definitely been Boston’s unicorn.

The last time the Bruins took down the Capitals, Claude Julien was still their head coach, Jarome Iginla was the third-leading scorer on the team, and Milan Lucic, Reilly Smith, Loui Eriksson, Carl Soderberg and Andrej Meszaros were still on the roster.

Also, Barack Obama was still the president of the United States, the hoverboard scooter wasn’t invented yet, Nico Hischier was just 15 years old, and Tom Brady was “only” a three-time Super Bowl Champion.

“At some point you definitely want to get it over with and win those games,” Patrice Bergeron said after last night’s 5-3 loss, per NHL.com.  It’s not something necessarily that I was thinking before the game … we knew it was a challenge and we had to be good and be smart. A few breakdowns and a little lack of discipline [and they] made us pay is the bottom line.”

Here’s the game-by-game breakdown of the 11-game losing streak:

• Oct. 11, 2014: 4-0 loss at home (Alex Ovechkin scored twice, Braden Holtby had the shutout)

• Mar. 15, 2015: 2-0 loss on the road (Nicklas Backstrom assisted on both goals, Holtby had the shutout)

• Apr. 8, 2015: 3-0 loss on the road (Backstrom had two more assists, Holtby had the shutout)

• Nov. 5, 2015: 4-1 loss on the road (John Carlson had a goal and an assist)

• Jan. 5, 2016: 3-2 loss at home (Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal and an assist)

• Mar. 5, 2016: 2-1 OTL at home (Matt Niskanen scored the game-winning goal)

• Dec. 7, 2016: 4-3 OTL on the road (Justin Williams scored twice, Backstrom netted the OT winner)

• Feb. 1, 2017: 5-3 loss on the road (Backstrom had three points)

• Apr. 8, 2017: 3-1 loss at home (Kevin Shattenkirk scored the game-winning goal)

• Nov. 4, 2017: 3-2 loss at home (Tom Wilson had two goals)

• Dec. 14, 2017: 5-3 loss at home (Alex Chiasson scored twice, Ovechkin had a goal (empty-netter and an assist)

These two teams will play each other one more time (Dec. 28) this season. Will the Bruins be able to figure out how to beat their “unicorn” by then?

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: What’s holding the Islanders back?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• University of Alabama hockey player Jon Lovorn is dedicating this season to the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School. (SECCountry.com)

• It’s time for the NHL to give all 31 teams an outdoor game next season. (Vice Sports)

• Philly.com takes a look at Sean Couturier‘s “well-balanced” life and how it got him to the NHL. (Philly.com)

• A strong end to 2017 could help the Predators land home ice advantage in the playoffs (Predlines)

• If/when Seattle makes it to the NHL, there might be too many teams in the Pacific Division. How would realignment look? (Five for Howling)

• One of the reasons the Oilers have struggled for so long is because of their inability to select solid players late in drafts. (OilersNation.com)

• The only thing that appears to be holding the Islanders back is goaltending. (The Hockey News)

• The Hershey Bears released their 2018 Outdoor Classic Jersey for their game against Lehigh Valley next month. (RussianMachineNeverBreaks.com)

• The Rangers’ recent struggles prove that they need to be sellers before the trade deadline. (NY Post)

• The Devils and Coyotes swapped minor-league forwards yesterday. New Jersey got Michael Latta while the Coyotes got Ryan Kujawinski. (NHL.com/Coyotes)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Saros, streaks, shutouts

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Player of the Night: Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators

You can criticize the Edmonton Oilers for taking too many perimeter shots and/or having their defensemen fire the puck far too often, and you’d probably have a point.

Still, on nights like these, you also have to acknowledge that the Oilers have also run into some tough luck and even tougher goalies. When it came to Thursday, Saros was that tough goalie, and he reminded the NHL that’s he capable of being more than “just a backup.”

The Finnish goalie set a new Predators record by making 46 saves for a shutout, collecting the second goose egg of his blossoming career.

The Predators (specifically Kyle Turris‘ new second line, which might need to be called a 1B line at this rate) are on a roll, beating Edmonton 4-0 to grab at least one point (7-1-2) in nine of their last 10 games.

Highlights of the Night

Nice play finished by Patrick Kane, as the Blackhawks cooled the Jets:

Jakub Vrana‘s goal was pretty sweet, and a taste of the Capitals’ recent dominance of the Bruins.

Josh Bailey‘s hat trick is worth watching here, even if it wasn’t enough to propel the Islanders to a win against the Blue Jackets.

Scary moment

Here’s hoping that Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Ryan Callahan are OK:

The Lightning kept their hot streak going with a W over the Coyotes.

Factoids

Brayden Point gets the Lightning their … well, you probably know. Their points.

The Wild are picking it up, and it’s not just the power of Bruce Boudreau. Probably.

The Flyers are weird, and so is hockey.

Scores

Capitals 5, Bruins 3
Flyers 2, Sabres 1
Blue Jackets 6, Islanders 4
Canadiens 2, Devils 1 (OT)
Ducks 3, Blues 1
Wild 2, Maple Leafs 0
Blackhawks 5, Jets 1
Avalanche 2, Panthers 1
Sharks 3, Flames 2
Predators 4, Oilers 0
Lightning 4, Coyotes 1
Golden Knights 2, Penguins 1

Fleury gets revenge against Penguins, Vegas grabs 20th win

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If you’re the fussy type, you might object to the word “revenge” in the headline.

It feels wrong to say that Marc-Andre Fleury got “the last laugh” against the Pittsburgh Penguins, being that this game happened in mid-December. So feel free to soften the verbiage; maybe you’d prefer to say that Fleury and the Vegas Golden Knights merely “got the best” of the Penguins.

Either way, round one goes to “MAF.”

The instinct might be to ding this game because it came in Vegas instead of Pittsburgh, but you could say that there was a healthy offering of Penguins fans tonight:

Whatever way you slice it, there was reportedly a fascinating atmosphere in Vegas, even if the game was a bit “low-event” at times, at least when you consider sheer pucks on net; Fleury stopped 24 out of 25 shots on goal while Murray gave up two goals on 26.

This odd-angle goal by Ian Cole was the only puck to beat Fleury, who was lights out in a second straight victory since returning from concussion issues that … we thought might have been the end of the Golden Knights’ hot start.

If the scene wasn’t nostalgia-laced enough, consider that Fleury evoked the save he made against Nicklas Lidstrom in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final:

Sheesh, some of this stuff almost seems on the nose, doesn’t it?

Remarkably, the Golden Knights improve to 20-9-2 while the Penguins fell to 16-14-3. Writing that almost made me pass out from the unlikelihood of it all; honestly, if someone told Golden Knights management that their record could be 16-14-3, they’d probably take it, right?

In case you’re wondering, yes, this marks another record.

So, the Golden Knights are 12-2-1 in Vegas so far. This doesn’t guarantee that there’s some sort of … sickness that comes from playing a team located in Sin City, yet it doesn’t exactly slam the door shut on such a conversation, either.

Now, Marc-Andre Fleury? He’s done quite a commendable job of shutting the door so far for the Golden Knights. His old buddies found out the hard way tonight.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.