TAMPA -- Call it the Senators' Working European Vacation.
It's expected the NHL will announce at the all-star game this weekend that the Senators will open their regular season next fall with a two-game series against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in Sweden.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray said that's what he has been hearing, but as of yesterday had not received any official confirmation.
It's also expected the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Rangers will have a two-game set in Prague, according to TSN.
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said yesterday he's excited about the prospect of playing at home with his NHL team.
"I hope it happens. Playing with Ottawa in Sweden would be special for me," said Alfredsson. "I think it will be a lot of fun. There will be a lot of interest."
The Senators are also expected to play an exhibition game against Frolunda, Alfredsson's old club.
"If I could play in front of my home crowd, that would be special," said the Senators captain.
The NHL had the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks open the regular season across the pond in London, England, with two games this year that were played before sellout crowds.
But you would have to think these proposed games will create even more buzz in hockey countries like Sweden and the Czech Republic.
You've also got to think that at some point Alfredsson is going to be on the hook for a dinner involving a whole lot of Swedish meatballs.
HEAR AND THERE
Senators goaltender Ray Emery had an MRI of his left wrist -- which has still been giving him some problems -- done on Wednesday. "I felt better for the last couple of weeks. I didn't feel good in November," he said, adding that's when the latest MRI was arranged, but couldn't be done until Wednesday. "It doesn't feel great, but it doesn't feel like there's anything wrong with it. It just took that long to get that MRI done and by the time they could get it done, I felt better, but thought I might as well get it looked at just to make sure." ... Tampa's Brad Richards was minus-2 by early in the second last night, bringing his league-worst plus-minus to minus-25. He owned all the second one last night, too, giving the puck away at the point on the power play leading to Alfredsson's hat-trick goal.
So, after their morning skate yesterday, about the first question Lightning coach John Tortorella gets is whether defenceman Dan Boyle is playing. "No," is the answer. So, one guess as to who was in the lineup for the Lightning last night. Was that a fib, or did things change in five hours? ... After the Senators' first goal, it sure sounded like there were a lot of Ottawa fans here taking respite from the cold up north. Good thing they were around because it might have been a pretty quiet place otherwise. It was only a little more than half full.
Doesn't this sound like a bad dream for a hockey player? You get the puck just outside the other team's blue line and you've got a clear path to the net. You break in, legs churning ... and you've got no stick. That's what happened to Tampa's Jan Hlavac in the first period last night.
Neither Emery nor Martin Gerber seemed particularly enthusiastic about coach John Paddock's "win and you're in" approach to choosing a starter. "I don't make the decisions on who plays and who doesn't," said Emery. "I guess that puts it in your hands a bit more." ... Many of the Senators were taking advantage of the fact the club's last game before the all-star break was in Florida, choosing just to hang around here before heading to Long Island for practice Monday afternoon. The Senators play Tuesday against the Islanders.
What woman wouldn't want to spend Valentine's Day this way: The James Joyce Irish Pub we visited in Ybor City is having its annual "Valentine's Day Midget Massacre." It features three dwarves (DEMO, Short Dawg and BLIXX) in "an old school UFC rules tournament." Nothing says "I love you" like "dwarf cage fighting," huh? ... My money would be on Short Dawg, who is about a foot taller and 100 lbs. heavier (4-foot-5, 180) than the other two. "Groin shots, hitting the back of the head and blatant cheating are not only legal, they're encouraged," says the postcard. That sounds a lot like the line at the media buffet.
There were representatives from seven teams at the game last night, including Dallas co-GM Brett Hull. Surely it is only the urgency of the approaching trade deadline that would bring so many guys to Tampa in January, right?
Paddock, the coach of the Eastern Conference all-stars, still didn't know who his assistant would be and, as far as lines go, figured he would keep Vincent Lecavalier at centre with Alfredsson and maybe have Eric Staal on the other side. Not bad. One lineup certainty: Paddock will have three proud daughters in Atlanta for the game.
There's going to be a shootout competition at the all-star game this weekend and Alfredsson has got a move ready. "He stole it from me," said winger Chris Neil from his stall nearby. Alfredsson has been practising it, but has never used it in a game. He showed us yesterday in the dressing room, but we won't divulge that it involves a backhander to the top corner on the glove side, so the goalies will be surprised.