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NHL starts this weekend in Europe

Sep 30, 2008 6:58 PM

Power Plays by Kevin Stott |

The NHL starts this weekend in Europe with the Rangers-Lightning in Prague and Penguins-Senators in Stockholm lacing up their skates for a pair of games.

Eighty percent of the league is sure it has improved in the offseason with the Lightning and Blackhawks expecting to impress the most if you believe the hockey pundits.

Tampa Bay (24-1 at Palms) did the most in the offseason, luring Barry Melrose from the climate-controlled studios of ESPN to be coach. The Lightning then rewarded Vincent Lecavalier for his 40-goal season with an 11-year-contract – unheard of in modern sports – and has their share of solid skaters like St. Louis and newbie Vrbata.

The big question is between the pipes where Mike Smith is the starter and former Caps netminder Olaf Kolzig serves as his backup. The ‘Ning will live or die with the early season play of Smith.

TB plays in the East where teams like the Flyers (16-1), Capitals (16-1) and Canadiens (12-1) were improved in 2007 so thoughts of making the playoffs are just that, thoughts.

Chicago (22-1), one of the league’s youngest teams, has high expectations with the line of Sharp-Toews-Kane. Much of the early success will be dependent on the play of starting goalie Nikki Khabibulin. who is backed up by former Canadien Cristobol Huet.

To make the playoffs in the brutally tough West, the Blackhawks need to play up to their potential.

The best two teams in the NHL are the Stanley Cup champion Red Wings and the East Conference champion Penguins (5-1) whose rosters are chock full of talent. This writer would not at all be surprised to see those two meet again in the Stanley Cup, something NBC would again surely love.

Hopefully, this season – my goal is 63 percent – will be as good as last year's most respectable 161-99-9 mark (61.9 percent).

In addition to the column in GT's weekly Tuesday editions, Power Plays will also appear here on the web under the BETTING TIPS section on Tuesdays.

As far as making picks for this first foursome of games, I’m not ready to make any just yet. It's tough to come up with any solid selections with four teams playing on foreign ice in way different time zones to start the season.

It’s anyone’s guess in terms of sides or totals. What I can tell you is both of the Sunday games will be televised on Versus. Until next week, keep your head on a swivel.