European Hockey – Friday’s Five for 23 November

STARING DOWN THE RUSSIAN BEAR: Nicklas Backstrom has been playing tremendous hockey in the KHL this season alongside Caps teammate Ovechkin

BY JEFF ANGUS

With the NHL cancelling the All-Star Game in Columbus and even more regular season games today, I figured we needed some non doom and gloom hockey talk. Consider this the first edition of a weekly recap of the important news and notes from the European hockey leagues. This week, I’ll take a look at some interesting matchups on the schedule, why Tuukka Rask is eaving his team in the Czech Republic, how a dynamic young Russians is faring in the KHL, and much more.

5. Nicklas Backstrom’s strong play over in the KHL has to get Capitals fans very, very excited. The talented pivot has six goals and 11 points on only nine games for Dynamo Moscow. The best part of his Russian adventure hasn’t been his strong play, though, but the jersey number(s) he has been given. Backstrom was first assigned number 99, but he didn’t feel comfortable wearing it. So what number does he get instead? Why number 69, of course.

Dynamo Moscow (the team that Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin play for) sit at +650 to win the KHL Championship. And they are currently first in the KHL with 58 points (tied with Lokomotiv). May not be a bad bet to take as this lockout drags on.

4. Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask is returning home from the Czech Republic in order to “prepare for the start of the NHL season.” Has Rask not been following North American news at all?

In eight starts with HC Plezen, Rask has compiled a 6-2 record along with a 1.86 goals-against-average. He will play his last game for Plezen today before returning to Boston. Tough news for the fans of Plezen – Rask is one of the best goaltenders in the world, and he would have ensured that their team would have remained at the top of the league table (where they are right now with 47 points).

3. Over in Switzerland, Geneva is currently holding down the top spot in the league with 51 points (nine more than second place Zurich). Geneva is currently +900 to win the NLA Championship – pretty good odds for a team so comfortably in first place at this point in the season.

They have been led by Sharks forward Logan Couture, who is currently fourth in league scoring with 23 points (Detroit prospect Damien Brunner is leading the league in scoring with 34 points, playing alongside Henrik Zetterberg for Zug).

2. Bud Holloway isn’t a very Swedish sounding name, is it? The former Los Angeles Kings prospect has developed into one of the best hockey players in the Swedish Elite League – he came over to Sweden last season, and recorded 49 points in 55 games for Skelleftea. He has outdone himself this season – through 25 games, Holloway already has 36 points. He has been compared to Steven Stamkos for his dynamic offensive ability (obviously a few levels below – Holloway creates offense with his skating and booming shot.

Holloway’s Skelleftea squad are taking on HV71 this Sunday. HV71 lead the SEL with 52 points, but Skelleftea are right behind them with 51 points. On November 3rd, Skelleftea beat HV71 7-3, while HV71 won the first matchup of the season 1-0 on October 20th.

It is hard to get a read on the matchup, as the two teams combined for 10 goals one game and only one in the other. Holloway and Skelleftea are really rolling right now. But the Total goals scored (over 4.5) +172 for Sunday could be an interesting play.

1. If you aren’t familiar with the name Vladimir Tarasenko, it is time to start paying attention to Russian hockey. The dynamic young forward (and St. Louis Blues prospect) is tearing up the KHL as a 21-year-old. He has 10 goals and 23 points in 16 games (through Thursday night). The Blues have a solid group of forwards, but no superstar talents (David Backes is very good, mind you). Tarasenko will change all of that if and when he decides to come to North America.

Tarasenko is 16th in KHL scoring, but he has played nine or 10 games less than everyone ahead of him in the scoring race (including SKA teammate Ilya Kovalchuk).

Some of Tarasenko’s work on display: