NHL Teams Starting in Europe
by Trevor Whenham - 10/7/2009
For the third year in a row, some NHL teams have began their season by playing games in Europe. This year, the ambitiously named NHL Premiere series took place in Stockholm and Helsinki on Oct. 2 and 3. The series featured three teams expected to make the playoffs out of the Central Division - the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, and St. Louis Blues, and one team out of the Southeast - the Florida Panthers - that doesn't really scare anyone. The teams played exhibition games against European squads before the season as well.
The games themselves were quite interesting. The Panthers and the Blackhawks split their two games in Helsinki. The Red Wings were expected to come out of the gate strong in Stockholm because so many of their key players are Swedish, but they floundered, losing both games to St. Louis. Those are just two games in a long season, though. What's more significant for bettors now, though, is how the teams are going to respond when they return from their long trip and start playing games at home. Having a sense of how these teams may respond upon returning home can give us an edge as we try to handicap their games over the next week or two. Here's a look at how the six previous teams to open in Europe have fared:
Ottawa Senators - The Sens opened their season last year in Stockholm with two games against the Pittsburgh Penguins. They won one game and lost the other in overtime. Their return home wasn't nearly as successful. The lost their first game back, won one, and then dropped four in a row. The were favored in each of the final four games - as heavily as -217 against Florida - so it was costly for bettors. The trip wasn't kind to the Senators, and they certainly didn't live up to expectations upon their return.
Pittsburgh Penguins - The Penguins lost their first game upon returning from Stockholm, and two of their first three. They were favored in each of those three games, and they played all three of them at home. The struggles for the Penguins continued for much of the first half of the season, but things obviously got better from there - they were red hot down the stretch and went on to win the Stanley Cup.
New York Rangers - The Rangers opened with two games against the Lightning in Prague. They won both by identical 2-1 scores. Upon returning home they were proof that not all teams are negatively affected by jet lag. New York won three games in a row upon return, and four of five. They were favored in three of the four wins. As was the case throughout the season, the games that they won were helped out by receiving strong goaltending.
Tampa Bay Lightning - The losing that started in Prague carried on in Florida. The Lightning lost three in a row upon returning, and four of five in their initial homestand. Of note, each of the first four games of the home stand went into overtime, so at least the team was getting some points out of the action. The Lightning were favored in the first four games. That's notable because the Lightning were not a team that was often favored as the season progressed and they made their way towards the second worst record in the NHL.
Two seasons ago
Anaheim Ducks - The Ducks opened their season with two games against the Kings in London. They split the games, both by a 4-1 score. The schedule makers were not fans of the Ducks - upon returning to the States they had to play their first three games on the road. They lost all three, including one against Columbus in which the Ducks were road favorites. Overall, they lost eight of their first 11 after leaving London. Given that they went on to have the third best record in the Western Conference, you could easily assume that this was not a team that enjoyed their fish and chip-eating experience.
L.A. Kings - The Kings didn't like the land of bad teeth and fatty food any more than the Ducks did. After splitting the U.K. adventure, they went back to familiar surroundings and promptly dropped their next four. A shootout win in game five was their only point in the first six North American games. The Kings were favored in two of those games. The Kings were tied with the Lightning for the worst record in the league at the end of the season, so the struggles out of the gate didn't turn out to be terribly surprising.
Conclusion - Each of the six teams that have traveled to Europe to start the regular season have been very different, so they have faced different issues upon their return. What stands out, though, is that five of the six teams struggled immediately upon their return. That doesn't automatically mean that the Blackhawks, Blues, Panthers, and Red Wings are also going to struggle, but it does probably mean that you'll want to be cautious with these teams for at least a week following their first North American game.
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