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February 13, 2016
by Andre Soderholm, Swedish Correspondent
Got to hand it to Penguins management though, after years of nagging emails, Ray Shero and Company finally budged and agreed to send the team overseas, saving me the effort, jetlag and whatnot. Most kind of them, I must say. Maybe we can do this every year.
I know lots of native NHL fans hate the Europe gig, but I still haven’t seen that many arguments other than sheer dislike of their own team not playing at home. Some mention how it's “their” team, the NHL has enough problems in America and that the time change sucks. Well, guess what? Watching games at 2 pm is not worse than at 2 am, and for the NHL to increase revenues, I'm sure it's important to keep Europe happy. Most silly is not liking your team starting in Europe because you couldn’t attend. Come on, we're talking one missed home game. With the current rotation of four teams playing two games abroad, that'd mean one game out of 41 every eight years. Aw, poor native fans missing out on the action.
Look, Europe sees all its best players leave for America (30+% of all NHL players are European, and more than that when looking at the better players), pay to air the games (in the middle of the night) and buys a lot of merchandise. TV-revenues and merchandise are huge for the NHL, and the European fan base is part of both.
London was a failure because England's not a hockey market. Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Russia and lots of other smaller European countries very much are, and these games will further increase interest. There was lots of buzz about the Stockholm games weeks before the teams even arrived.
So both business wise and as a way to give something back to the European fans, these games make sense. Now, this game in particular... ugh.
I hope it didn’t convince those attending their first NHL game to never watch hockey again. The game was horrible, all slow, sloppy, uninspired, low scoring, and whatnot.
A friend considered leaving early in the third to catch an earlier train, and I really couldn’t have blamed him. If the decision was mine, I’d make it one game on Friday and one on Sunday to avoid the back-to-back grind. When marketing the NHL abroad, at least make sure the players get the chance to give it their best. And they spent like a week in Sweden anyway, so adding the off-day wouldn’t be a problem.
The Sahara Hotnights kicked off the “action,” playing two of their hits before hoisting a fake Cup and placing it upside down, afterwards stating that being something every true rocker would do. Appalled over such manners, Alfredsson was quick to fire two slap shots at them, drawing a standing ovation as the Hotnights hurried off the stage. Sweden loves their Alfie. Ask any announcer or studio guy working with NHL games aired in Sweden, and they’ll tell you Spezza and Heatley both suck. One even phrased it as Alfredsson carries Ottawa’s entire first unit, defensemen included. Aw, Alfie, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind.
Highlights were few and far between. Malkin had some really good moments, but other than that and Heatley’s one-timer, I’d say the cameramen spotting Lemieux (twice) and Salming were the greatest crowd pleasers. Luckily, those moments were kept short. Alfredsson came over the boards, dropped a puck and looked around the arena to find Lemieux’s seat, his stick raised and ready.
Rival captain Crosby had a frustrating evening, failing with some blind passes and not really getting things working. His deliberately taking more shots was obvious, though. If he keeps that up and stops with the risky, blind passes, I say he’ll be a threat for those 120 points again.
The game truly stunk though, especially the Pens and their power play. Speaking of the latter, don’t get me started on Letang. Some giveaways early is one thing, considering his now increased responsibilities, but it takes a whole lot of suck to fail on a dump from between the red and blue line with only one opponent remotely close to you. One could say he missed the 95% percent of the rink’s width that would’ve made the dump successful.
Last night’s game against New Jersey didn’t exactly look great, either. Still, I think the Pens will be fine before long. If they’re in the playoff race come January/February, Whitney and Gonchar will be awesome additions to an already solid team. Maybe this Swede will have to come over and watch the Pens in Pittsburgh after all.