Monday, October 06, 2008

The NHL's European vacation

Another year, another season opening overseas. Except this time, the first four games of a 1,230-game schedule were on the other side of the pond.

I don't know about anyone else, but the exercise was rather zzzzz this time around. The atmosphere in the rinks made the games seem, on television anyway, like exhibition games (quieter than a library, in other words).

We've heard a lot about how these excursions are aimed at growing revenues, and while that might be the case from a marketing standpoint, it stands to reason that there are some pretty heavy costs to consider. Flying four teams, 100-plus players and who knows how many personnel to Switzerland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Sweden no doubt costs the league considerably more than had they opened the season in North America.

All four of these teams draw well at home, too, so it's not as if there was going to be fuller buildings found overseas. The prices for the games were reportedly sky high — but where isn't that the case?

A few notes from on the ice:
  • It's a small sample size, to be sure, but the season's first four games were low scoring and penalty filled. The games averaged 4.25 goals a game and 11 power plays, which is down and up from last season's regular season averages.

  • Tampa Bay had some serious issues against the Rangers — and you can't fault the goaltending. Both Mike Smith and Olaf Kolzig were stellar in facing 80 shots over the course of being heavily outshot in the series. The defence ... not so stellar.

  • Vinny Lecavalier appears to be labouring coming off of shoulder surgery, which has to be worrying for the Lightning. That's a tough injury, and he's spent months rehabbing.

  • Tampa Bay coach Barry Melrose leaned heavily on Andrej Meszaros and Matt Carle on the back end, giving them an average of 28 and 26 minutes in the two games. Both played well, I thought, although the Lightning power play was pretty limp. Jamie Heward, Janne Niskala and Mark Recchi all saw decent minutes with the man advantage.

  • Also playing big-time minutes on the weekend: Filip Kuba (27:18), Sid Crosby (25:42), Michal Rozsival (23:54), Daniel Alfredsson (23:53) and Kris Letang (23:45).

  • I was surprised to see Pittsburgh didn't use Alex Goligoski in Game 1, but good on Michel Therrien for throwing him into the fire yesterday. Goligoski had played very well in preseason and, while he was a bit uncertain at times in his first regular season game, he did log 21:26 total and an incredible 10:40 on the power play (!) and looks like he'll evolve into an excellent quarterback. He's more useful than Darryl Sydor, at least.

  • Crosby wasn't kidding when he said he wanted to shoot more this season: He led all skaters with 11 shots in the two games. It's a good thing, too, because it looks like Crosby will have to create a whole lot more out of thin air if he's stuck with Miro Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko all year.

  • Unexpected players playing fairly big minutes: Heward (20:27), Brandon Dubinsky (18:14) and Alexandre Picard (18:03). Dubinsky, in particular, looked excellent. He was out there on the penalty kill and played more power play minutes than Nik Zherdev.

  • Rarely seeing the ice: Pittsburgh had four players average under six minutes a game (Taffe, Thomas, Bissonnette, Godard) while Ottawa barely used Shean Donovan, Dean McAmmond and rookie Brian Lee. Melrose rotated his lines a bit better, but left Gary Roberts on the bench for long stretches, while the Rangers stayed away from giving bangers Colton Orr and Aaron Voros much ice time.
On a final note, our pal Gabe Desjardins has Behind The Net up and running again, and Carle leads all players in the rating category. But it's early yet.

The last preseason game of 2008-09 goes tonight, with four regular season games getting things going in North America on Thursday in Detroit, Denver, San Jose and Vancouver. Both CBC and Versus are showing doubleheaders that night.

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At 12:35 p.m., October 06, 2008, Blogger saskhab said...

Re: Tampa. The gaps between the forwards and D were ridiculous. All of Tampa's forwards seemed to be looking for a stretch pass. I don't know if that's Melrose's game plan, or if it was simply players not following the game plan. Could be a bit of both. Those D were left high and dry several times in trying to move the puck out of the zone. They need more options. The Rags took one period to catch onto this and from then on the 2 game set became turnover central around the Tampa blue line.

The crowds were quiet. Is that a result of the games being so expensive, or the games being on neutral ice? Probably a bit of both. Also didn't help that Alfie was the only Swede in the Stockholm games and the Czechs in the Tampa/Rags game were of the good, not great variety (Rozsival and Prucha, Prospal and Vrbata). Have Detroit and Dallas play next year in Helsinki and see what happens as it gets billed as Finland vs. Sweden, NHL version.

At 12:57 p.m., October 06, 2008, Blogger Dean said...

James, you only care about Goligoski cause you own him in Pool C!

At 1:15 p.m., October 06, 2008, Blogger FAUX RUMORS said...

1) If the Lightning have to 'rely' on Jamie Heward as a big minute guy this season, its gonna be a LONG in the Florida Bay area!
2) Have to agree that the opening of the season there does little to promote the game here. Face off times at noon on weekends won't get many viewers at least south of the border.
3) Unless the NHL intends to expand over there (and there are NUMEROUS reasons NOT to) its does little overall in our opinion. A gimmick to do it once, stupid to repeat/expand the exercise repeatedly


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