Mike Halford

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Goalie nods: Dallas opens with Niemi over Lehtonen

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Dallas, home of the NHL’s most-discussed goalie platoon, has made the call for its opening-night starter against Anaheim.

Antti Niemi, who came on in relief of Kari Lehtonen in last year’s 6-1 playoff elimination loss to St. Louis, will be in between the pipes tonight at American Airlines.

More: Goaltending remains the biggest question mark in Dallas

The Stars’ two-goalie setup was under the microscope throughout last season, and that scrutiny only intensified in the playoffs. Head coach Lindy Ruff grew wary of the situation — saying he was “tired of explaining our two goalie thing” — but, after getting bounced, he insisted the Stars didn’t one clear-cut No. 1 netminder.

GM Jim Nill agreed. He shot down rumblings of a potential Lehtonen buyout in June, remaining committed to the goaltending tandem that costs Dallas $10.4 million annually.

It’s probably worth noting that Dallas made the decision to open last year with Niemi as well. He played well, posting a 37-save shutout against Pittsburgh.

For the Ducks, John Gibson gets the start tonight.

Elsewhere…

Al Montoya will start over Carey Price (flu) when Montreal takes on Buffalo. The Sabres will counter with Robin Lehner.

Jaroslav Halak, coming off an impressive performance with Team Europe at the World Cup, will be in goal for the Islanders. The Rangers are going with Henrik Lundqvist.

— No surprises in Columbus, as both the Bruins and Jackets are going with their No. 1s: Tuukka Rask and Sergei Bobrovsky.

— In a rematch of last year’s first-round playoff series, Ben Bishop and the Bolts will host Petr Mrazek and the Red Wings.

— Former teammates Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo will get the starts as the Devils take on the Panthers in Florida.

Jake Allen, who stopped 17 of 19 shots in last night’s win over Chicago, goes back-to-back as the Blues take on the Wild. Devan Dubnyk goes for Minnesota.

— As Brough wrote earlier, Connor Hellebuyck has been named Winnipeg’s opening-night starter. He’ll be up against Cam Ward, who gets the nod for Carolina.

— Familiar matchup in Pittsburgh as Marc-Andrey Fleury and the Pens host Braden Holtby and the Caps. Fleury, of course, is the Pens’ No. 1 starter with Matt Murray (hand) sidelined.

Zetterberg won’t pull a Datsyuk, intends on playing out contract in Detroit

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Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said he has no intention of following in the footsteps of former teammate Pavel Datsyuk, who left the organization with one year remaining on his contract.

From the Detroit Free Press:

[Columnist Mitch] Albom: When you signed that 12-year deal (in 2009) did it seem shorter than than it does now with five years still left?

Zetterberg: Well, actually when I signed, 12 years seemed like so long a time. Now all of a sudden, I’ve done over half of it and it’s gone really fast. I thought when I signed it — oh, my God — it’s forever.

Albom: And you have every intention of playing all five years that are left?

Zetterberg: Yes. Yes. But in the same way, I’m human. I know that every year it’s a bigger and bigger battle to get through. We’ll see if my body holds up for five more years. Last year, I played 82 games, which I was proud of doing — maybe it wasn’t 82 good ones, but I played 82 — and so we’ll see. By now, I’m just taking it year by year.  And obviously the next two years are big years — the last year at the Joe and then first year at new building. That’s probably where I’m looking.

Zetterberg further explained his position by juxtaposing his potential return “home” — to play in the Swedish Hockey League — to Datsyuk’s decision to play for SKA St. Petersburg, one of the marquee Russian franchises in the KHL.

“I understand Pavel,” Zetterbeg said. “I think the KHL obviously is a higher level than the Swedish Elite League, and also for him going back to be with his daughter (who lives in Russia) was a big impact.”

There are other factors to consider as well.

Datsyuk was 38 by the time he cut ties with Detroit, while Zetterberg turned 36 just a few days ago. The veteran Swede is also coming off two pretty impressive campaigns, health-wise — he appeared in 77 contests during the ’14-15 season, and all 82 last year.

Zetterberg is also the captain in Detroit, a position he’s held for the last four seasons. That’s a role nobody takes lightly, especially him. Wearing the “C” for the Red Wings is a pretty special honor, especially since only two other players have donned it over the last 30 years– Hall of Famers Nicklas Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman.

Full circle: Ducks claim Etem, their first-round pick from six years ago

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The reunions continue in Anaheim.

The Ducks, who re-hired bench boss Randy Carlyle this summer, have gone out and added one of their former playersEmerson Etem, who GM Bob Murray took with the 29th overall pick at the 2010 draft.

Etem, 24, was placed on waivers by Vancouver earlier this week after failing to make the team out of training camp. All told, Etem scored seven goals and 12 points in 39 games for the Canucks, who acquired him from the Rangers last season in exchange for Nicklas Jensen and a 6th-round pick.

(That noise you hear is Canucks fans venting about GM Jim Benning’s asset management. Again.)

Etem was drafted while Carlyle was head coach in Anaheim, but never actually played for him. He made his NHL debut in ’13 under former bench boss Bruce Boudreau, and enjoyed his best years there.

Though Etem has fallen on hard times lately, the move back to Anaheim makes sense. He’s an incredibly fast skater, and one of the knocks on the Ducks is that they’re an older group that lacks overall team speed.

 

Columbus says it had ‘the hardest camp in the NHL,’ but will it translate to regular-season success?

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In a league where everybody works hard, how much can be gained by working the hardest?

The Columbus Blue Jackets are ready to find out.

Ahead of tonight’s season-opener against Boston, individuals throughout the organization — from GM Jarmo Kekelainen, to head coach John Tortorella, to the players — have all been repeating versions of the club’s apparent:

We’ve worked harder than anybody else, and that’s what will make us successful.

The Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline recently penned a column outlining the club’s mindset. Some key takeaways:

• Tortorella said all this hard work will result the Jackets becoming “the best third-period team in the league.”

Sergei Bobrovsky arrived to camp 17 pounds lighter than last year. Dalton Prout was 11 pounds lighter, captain Nick Foligno seven.

• Folingo said he’s “pretty sure we had the hardest camp in the NHL.”

• Kekalainen said it’s on the club to “earn some respect back,” explaining the Jackets lost it last season.

Sounds good, sure. But there are some concerns.

For starters, the “hardest training camp” thing is entirely subjective. There’s no doubt Columbus worked hard, but how can anybody accurately measure if it’s “harder” than another club? Everybody practices the same amount and (for the most part) plays the same amount of exhibition games.

Then there’s the fitness angle.

Remember Dallas Eakins? The former Edmonton bench boss made no bones about wanting to whip his club into shape — in his introductory presser, he said “I want players to be so fit that a forward, if I ask him to play 26 minutes that night, he’s going to play 26 minutes at a high level.”

Eakins stressed being in tip-top shape was a major key to success.

“It’s something that I’m passionate about,” he said.

In two years behind the bench, Eakins went 36-63-14.

It’s hard to say if fitness played a role in what transpired in Edmonton — Eakins was dealing with a myriad of problems, and had a roster full of holes — but if the Oilers were indeed the fittest team in the league, it didn’t translate to on-ice success.

And this could be why so many are leery about Columbus’ approach.

After last year’s disastrous campaign, many assumed big changes were on the horizon — yet the roster remains largely the same, with hopes pinned on individual players responding to challenges: Be better, work harder, give more.

That’s a fine strategy, if you’ve got the right pieces in place. But the Jackets have a combined losing record over the last two years, largely with this group running the show.

And as Bill Parcells is fond of saying, you are what your record says you are.

Carolina’s six-game road trip to start year ‘not ideal’ says Francis

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Last year, the ‘Canes played eight of their first 10 games on the road and didn’t fare all that well, going 4-6-0.

Now they’re hoping history doesn’t repeat itself.

“I mean, six in a row and eight of the first 10 on the road, with a young team – that’s not an ideal situation for us,” Carolina GM Ron Francis said, per the News & Observer. “But it is what it is. And hopefully we get out there and get a few wins under our belt.

“There’s no sense in complaining about what we face. Let’s go make the most of it.”

The ‘Canes open tonight in Winnipeg, then have a couple nights off before playing in Vancouver on Sunday. From there, it’s Edmonton on Oct. 18, Calgary on Oct. 20, Philly on Oct. 22 and Detroit on Oct. 25.

That means Carolina won’t play its first home games until Friday, Oct. 28 (versus the Rangers) and Sunday, Oct. 30 (versus Philly). And once those are done, the ‘Canes are back out for another pair of road games in Ottawa and Nashville.

Phew.

As Francis mentioned, that kind of schedule can be tough on a young, inexperienced team unfamiliar with the rigors of NHL travel. The ‘Canes certainly are young — the defense is highlighted by four guys under the age of 23 (Noah Hanifin, Roland McKeown, Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin), while the forward group includes 19-year-old Sebastian Aho, 21-year-old Elias Lindholm and 22-year-old Teuvo Teravainen.

But if the opening night of the year showed anything, it’s that the game is all about the kids right now. Auston Matthews lit it up for the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night, and Connor McDavid did the same in Edmonton.

Francis is hopeful his young charges can do something similar.

Related: A ‘very difficult road trip’ is looming for the Ducks