Sunday, October 05, 2008

The season debuts on European ponds

The 2008-09 NHL season got underway on Saturday as a double header on the CBC provided hockey fans with their long awaited return to the action.

The opening puck was dropped in Prague, as the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning brought the North American game to the Czech Republic. While the fans were no doubt still in shock that local hero Jaromir Jagr no longer wears Broadway Blues, they instead had to learn to appreciate the play of Sweden’s Markus Naslund, who made his regular season debut a memorable one with one of the Rangers two goals on the night, good enough to secure a 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay.

The Lightning are fortunate that the score wasn’t higher, having taken seven penalties giving a very talented power play more than enough practice in working their drills under real game conditions.

The Rangers fired 41 shots at Tampa’s Mike Smith, while Henrik Lundqvis had a rather easy day of things, facing only 21 shots.

The match featured the regular season debut of the highly touted draft pick Steven Stamkos, who came close to picking up his first NHL goal in his first game, providing head coach Barry Melrose with some glimpses of what may soon come his way from his new vantage point behind the Tampa Bay bench.

The second half of the double header provided for a reunion of the Senators and Penguins, who last met as Pittsburgh quickly, banished Ottawa from the playoffs in four straight games.

Once again, Sens fans will be shaking their heads about that ages old curse, the goaltending position; Martin Gerber got off to a rough start surrendering the Pens first goal less than one minute into the first period.

And while he and the Sens did battle back during the course of the remaining 59 minutes, it would in the end be that first goal that would come back to haunt them as would a few bad habits from last season, with poor puck possession and turnovers proving to be a costly aspect of the Senators game plan.

In a fast paced affair, which saw Tyler Kennedy become the Penguins key attraction of the night, his first goal of the game and then the winning marker in Overtime accounted for half of the Penguins scoring and one more than Ottawa could provide on the way to the Penguins 4-3 overtime victory.

Gerber who has become the Sens number one this season, had occasional flashes of his past solid form, but the occasional lapses will be what the Ottawa fans will be talking about through the weekend.

Gerber gave up his four goals on 30 shots In the Tampa end of the rink, Marc-Andre Fleury turned aside 32 of the 35 shots directed his way.

It was a homecoming night for Daniel Alfredsson, though more than a few in attendance didn’t seem to be particularly fond of his team, providing the Sens with the occasional smattering of boos.

There were no boos however for the honorary puck dropper of the night, as Mats Sundin took time away from that on going contemplation of the hockey universe, to drop the puck to get the game underway. The rare Mats sighting, produced no new leads as to his intentions as far as the 2008-09 season go, though apparently a position as a linesman could be in the offing judging by his prowess of the face off circle.

The season debut also provided the CBC with the opportunity to unveil their new intermission host Mike Milbury, who took up his duties with Kelly Hrudey on Saturday, providing much of the same tone and bombast of his TSN appearances, transferred over to his new home on the CBC.

We’re not sure if he’s going to be permanently partnered with Hrudey or if he will eventually gravitate to his own turf on the CBC set, the first edition provided an interesting look at how he might fit into the Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts, though it did seem to take away from Hrudey’s analysis of the events of the day.

And we assume that in a spirit of peace between nations, Don Cherry was nowhere to be seen on the Hockey Night from Europe programming, perhaps fearful of a European meltdown over the wrath of Grapes, the wraps were kept on Cherry until Thursday night’s double header broadcast which will start out of Detroit.

The Sens and Pens and Bolts and Rangers will renew their acquaintances on Sunday, before heading back to North America to pick up the rest of the NHL schedules.

Saturday’s action marked the fifth time that the NHL opened up its season on foreign soil, a program the started back in 1997.

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