Late Couture goal kills Cats

One goal separated winners from losers in four EURO season openers on Monday night.

The tightest game of all was played in Finland, where the hometown Jokerit outshot Geneva 41-31, led 2-0 at one point, but ended up losing in a shootout. Geneva took the two points when Marian Gaborik and Thomas Vanek scored in the shootout to best Helsinki’s shooters. Kari Lehtonen, Geneva’s goalie, stopped Jarome Iginla and Brad Marchant in the shootout. The biggest moment in the game came while Helsinki was pressing for a powerplay goal to make it 3-1 in the third period. Instead, Geneva’s Brad Stuart and Jordan Leopold got possession of the puck and worked it up to Mike Fisher, who zipped a wrist shot over Henrik Lundqvist’s right shoulder to tie the game. Helsinki seemed to being trying to send the message that they were going to throw their weight around more this season. Both Daniel Fernholm and Paul Stastny registered 7 hits in the contest and Helsinki out-hit Geneva 42-22. From league headquarters in Vienna, a robust reporting system shows that the Jokerit attempted to check the Generals 117 times in the game. Only Munich (119) had a higher number of attempted checks in their first game.  Helsinki connected on 42 of those checks, Munich on only 22. Helsinki’s next game will be against the team that hit the least on Day 1: Bratislava (14 hits).

Compared to the other games on Monday, Oslo’s 4-1 win over visiting Gothenburg was a blowout. The Outlaws outshot the Devils 38-21 and the star of the game was a rookie defenseman who has Oslo GM Chris Lee looking pretty smart today. Drafted in the middle of the second round of this year’s draft, Matt Irwin was known to have a good shot but some doubted whether he could step right into the fray. Coach Peter Laviolette had faith and paired the 25-year-old with 31-year-old David Petrasek. The result was two goals for Irwin, one coming into an open net with 2:13 to go, and the honor of him being named the game’s first star.

In one of two games played in Russia, a pair of Athens players who had great rookie seasons last year hooked up for the only goal of the game. Early in the game, Staffan Kronwall took a shot that looked more like a pass to Vadim Shipachyov, standing in front of the near post. Last year’s Rookie of the Year winner, who scored 21 goals last season, redirected the puck enough to get through Pekka Rinne’s pads and it was the only goal of the game. Athens’ Cam Ward made 28 saves to get the season’s first shutout. St. Petersburg’s defensemen are among their strengths and a main reason they made it to the finals last season, and on Monday, they were good, blocking 8 shots in front of Rinne. Dmitri Kalinin blocked the most with 3. After the game, it was revealed that St. Petersburg’s top center, Brad Richards, had an injury and would miss some games.

The other game in Russia saw Moscow Spartak hold off a late rally by the Bern Bears and emerge with a 4-3 win.  First-year EURO player Andrei Markov scored two goals on 4 shots from his defense position and free agent pickup Derek Roy assisted Anze Kopitar for a power play goal that wound up being the game-winner. Bern’s Johan Franzen led a third-period surge with an assist and then a goal, but it was not enough to defeat goalie Jan Halak and Spartak.

A third-period rally that was much more fruitful occurred in the Czech Republic, where Berlin scored three goals in the final 4:30 to overtake Prague. The backbreaker was a Logan Couture breakaway with his team shorthanded in the dying seconds of the third period.  When Couture’s deke and shot beat Ryan Miller, there were just 6 seconds left on the clock, stunning 19,891 Siamese Cats fans and sending them for the exits. The Smurfs outshot Prague 29-20 and Berlin defenseman Matt Carle was named the game’s first star after scoring on both of the shots he took. Both teams scored two powerplay goals. In an interesting bit of strategy, new coach Adam Oates elected to start Erik Ersberg in goal over Semyon Varlamov, whose mind might be on the legal troubles he is having after being accused of beating up his girlfriend. Last season, Varlamov played in 54 games for Berlin, compiling a 27-19-7 record and stopping shots at a 89.3 rate. Ersberg appeared in 20 games last year and had a save percentage of 87.7.

Zurich defeated visiting Dublin 5-3, scoring their five goals in a 41-minute stretch to give the Fighting Irish a 5-1 hill to climb in the last half of the third period. Patrick Kane and Jussi Jokinen each had a goal and an assist to lead their team in scoring, while Ryan Kesler did the same for Dublin. To add injury to insult, the Irish will have to sub for defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who suffered a groin injury – the league’s first injury of the season- after 8 minutes of ice time.

Today’s schedule features 6 more games.

Two teams that played Monday will be back at it with no rest as St. Petersburg and Zurich faceoff in Switzerland. The Red Stars have already revised their lineup to compensate for the Richards injury. Jonathan Huberdeau will see top line duty between Blake Wheeler and Erik Cole.

Fans in Moscow will be treated to a second day in two days when Milan visits tonight. Both teams won their first games.

Steven Stamkos will lead Frankfurt into Athens for the Greeks’ home opener.  The Inferno feature one of the strangest looking lines in the league with 5-5 Nate Gerbe lining up at left wing and 6-7 Brian Boyle at center.

Both Belfast and Copenhagen have had a day’s rest and they will play each other in Denmark. Belfast features some of the best young centers in the EURO with Sidney Crosby, Tony Martensson and Cody Hodgson.  To the surprise of many, Martensson was the most dangerous offensive weapon of the three last season, scoring 30 goals and getting 263 shots on goal. In the Giants’ first game this season, however, Martensson was held without a shot on goal and was a minus 2 against Frankfurt. He and his linemates, Matt Duchene and Miko Lehtonen will be looking for a better performance against the Tridents.

In the British Isles, London will host Dublin, fresh from their Monday loss in Switzerland. One of those teams will achieve their first win of the season.

And in Berlin, the Smurfs will hope the win in Prague didn’t tire them out too much for their home opener against the defending champion Rouge Eiffels, who might be in a less than generous mood following their opening-day loss to Copenhagen.

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