2011-12 schedule: Events on our radar
The NHL unveiled the 2011-12 regular-season schedule Thursday. Here are a few of the events already on our radar:
Oct. 6: Philadelphia Flyers at Boston Bruins
The Bruins will raise a Stanley Cup banner for the first time since 1972 and they couldn't have picked a better opponent than the Flyers for the historic moment. Two seasons ago, the Flyers stunned the Bruins by erasing a 3-0 series deficit and beating Boston before reaching the Stanley Cup finals. This past spring, of course, the Bruins avenged that embarrassing loss by sweeping the Flyers in the second round.
Philly will also have a new look to it after Thursday's trades of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. And Ilya Bryzgalov will be tending goal. It should be a great night at TD Garden on opening night of the season.
Oct. 6: Pittsburgh Penguins at Vancouver Canucks
The Penguins open the 2011-12 season on the road with a visit to Rogers Arena, home of the defending Western Conference champs. The big question is whether the Penguins will be able to welcome back their two top offensive stars, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, both of whom missed significant time to injuries last season. Malkin, coming back from knee surgery, should be ready to roll when training camp starts. Crosby's situation remains clouded as he tries to come back from a concussion that sidelined him from early January through the rest of the season.
Oct. 9: Montreal Canadiens at Winnipeg (Whatchamacallits)
OK, the new Winnipeg franchise doesn't actually have a name yet, but they sure will by the time the Habs roll into the MTS Center to kick off the home portion of the former Atlanta Thrashers' schedule. It will be a big night for fans in Winnipeg, as they will see regular-season hockey for the first time since the Jets played their last game there at the end of the 1995-96 season. Whatever moniker the new ownership group chooses, we're guessing there will be a whiteout of some kind.
Oct. 13: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins
Assuming Crosby and Malkin are both in the Pens' lineup, this early-season tilt between the two longtime rivals should be a dandy. The Capitals are coming off another disappointing postseason after being swept by Tampa Bay in the second round and will be looking to make an early statement against the Pens in the first of four regular-season meetings. Even though it's now been more than two years since the teams clashed in a classic playoff series, these regular-season games never disappoint.
Nov. 3: Edmonton Oilers at Los Angeles Kings
Will the rebuilding Oilers have a familiar face in their lineup when the season starts? Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi is exploring trade options for Ryan Smyth, a trade that seems likely given the team's acquisition of Richards on Thursday. One of the places Smyth could land is with his original team in Edmonton. If Smyth does go back to the Oilers, it will be interesting to see what kind of reception the rugged winger receives at the Staples Center.
Jan. 7: Vancouver Canucks at Boston Bruins
The Canucks will be revisiting some unhappy memories on this date, as the two 2011 Stanley Cup finalists meet for the first time since Game 7 in Vancouver. The Canucks were destroyed in all three Cup finals games in Boston, and you can bet Bruins fans will be letting netminder Roberto Luongo know all about it, assuming the Vezina Trophy finalist gets the start in this matinee affair.
Jan. 2: Winter Classic, Rangers at Flyers
Although the NHL hasn't formally announced the 2012 Winter Classic, the New York Rangers are scheduled to play an afternoon game in Philadelphia on Jan. 2 and you can bet it will be outdoors at the Phillies' Citizens Bank Park. There had been rumors the Winter Classic would return to an 8 p.m. ET start time that would mirror last year's game in Pittsburgh (that game between the Pens and Caps was delayed because of inclement weather). But NHL sources have told ESPN.com that's not true. The NHL schedule suggests the game will go at 1 p.m. ET.
Jan. 26-30: All-Star break
The annual All-Star festival lands in Ottawa this season and it'll be interesting to see if the Canadian capital can match last year's roaring success in Raleigh, N.C. Here's hoping the player draft returns for a second year, although there remains the never-ending question about what to do with the game itself, if we dare use that term to describe the no-hit, no-emotion affair.
April 3: Columbus Blue Jackets at Phoenix Coyotes
So, will this be the final home game for the Phoenix Coyotes in Glendale, Ariz.? It's entirely possible the Coyotes will start another season under the direction of the NHL as the perpetual ownership saga drags on in the desert. Hard to believe the league would allow this to happen beyond the 2011-12 season. Given the backward nature of Glendale's municipal leaders, it's easy to envision the league simply pulling the plug on the franchise and relocating the team at the end of the upcoming season.
April 7: Final day of regular season
The NHL schedule has a bit of a wrinkle this season, as the final regular-season date is on a Saturday instead of the traditional Sunday. This day also marks the busiest date on the calendar with all 30 teams in action.