Daniel Alfredsson

NHL schedule: Games to circle on your calendars

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The National Hockey League released its 1,230-game regular season schedule on Friday and, after hours of intense scrutiny, PHT (again, it’s just me) has whittled down its list of must-see games.

In no particular order, they are…

Dec. 1, Detroit at Ottawa: Alfie returns

The longtime Sens captain shocked fans by signing with Detroit at the start of free agency, ending his 17-year career in Ottawa in the most dramatic of fashions.

It’ll be interesting to see how he’s received.

The organization has praised Alfredsson — Sens owner Eugene Melnyk said the club “would never forget Alfie for all the things he’s done,” — but the former captain admitted he expects anger from fans.

Jan. 19, Boston at Chicago: Stanley Cup Final rematch

The Blackhawks and Bruins will meet at the United Center for the first of two Cup Final rematches (the second is on Mar. 27 at TD Garden).

Of note, one of the biggest figures of Chicago’s victory, Dave Bolland, won’t be around to experience the rematch. The Stanley Cup-winning goalscorer was dealt to Toronto at the NHL Entry Draft.

Nov. 27, Philadelphia at Tampa Bay: Vinny goes home

It’ll be an emotional night in Tampa when Vincent Lecavalier returns as a Flyer.

Lecavalier, who debuted for the Bolts at 18 and spent his entire 14-season career in Tampa Bay, didn’t choose to leave — his contract was bought out during the compliance window, with the club citing salary cap issues.

While Tampa gained cap relief, it lost an important community fixture in the process. Fans will likely give Lecavalier’s a hero’s welcome on the 27th.

Mar. 20, Minnesota at New Jersey: Parise finally faces Devils

The former New Jersey captain was denied a chance to face his ex-club due to the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, but will have a chance next season during Minnesota’s lone trip to the Prudential Center.

It’s going to be curious to see how Devils fans treat Parise, especially since he’s no longer the most recent star to leave New Jersey.

A big chunk of the team that lost the 2012 Stanley Cup Final to Los Angeles is gone — Parise’s in Minnesota, David Clarkson’s in Toronto and Ilya Kovalchuk stunningly retired, then signed in the KHL.

Oct 30, Boston at Pittsburgh: So. Many. Storylines

Let’s see.

The Bruins swept the Pens out of the playoffs.

Zdeno Chara punched Sidney Crosby in his surgically-repaired jaw.

Jarome Iginla signed with the B’s in free agency.

Of note, Oct. 30 is the first of three meetings between the Pens and Bruins next season.

Nov. 30, Vancouver at New York Rangers: Torts is back!

The Canucks will make their first and only trip to the Big Apple early in the year, which will mark John Tortorella’s return to MSG after being fired by the Rangers in late May.

It’ll also mark Alain Vigneault’s first regular-season game against his old club (the Canucks and Rangers will meet in the preseason in Vancouver, mind you) and the first time Vancouver has played in New York since the 2010-11 season.

Honorable Mentions

…Tyler Seguin will return to Boston as a member of the Dallas Stars for the first time on Nov. 5.

…Two years after being traded from Columbus, Rick Nash will return to Nationwide for the first time on Nov. 7, in a game that will also mark Marian Gaborik’s first game against his ex-Ranger mates.

…Los Angeles and San Jose will meet for the first time since their intense playoff series on Oct. 30. Subplot here? Raffi Torres vs. Jarret Stoll.

…In that vein, Ottawa and Montreal will meet for their first time since their controversial playoff series on Nov. 7. Subplots here include Eric Gryba vs. Lars Eller, and Brandon Prust vs. Paul MacLean.

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.

Update: Clarke MacArthur suffers concussion

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 8: Clarke MacArthur #16 of the Ottawa Senators skates with the puck during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center on October 8, 2015 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/ Getty Images)
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Update: As many feared, Clarke MacArthur suffered a concussion. The Ottawa Senators announced that he will be “evaluated daily.”

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Rough news for the Ottawa Senators on Sunday: forward Clarke MacArthur needed help off the ice following a big hit during a team scrimmage.

The hit was delivered by Patrick Sieloff, prompting an immediate response from Bobby Ryan, according to The Hockey News’ Murray Pam.

MacArthur has been hoping to return to NHL action after some serious concussion issues, so this is a troubling situation. More than a few people wonder if this might end his career.

Update: Here’s a GIF of the hit.