2009-10 NHL matchups to watch
Now that the NHL has unveiled its slate of games for the coming season, which will begin Oct. 1 with four games and finish April 11, here are some games to which we'll pay special attention:
Oct. 1: San Jose at Colorado
The Avs won't waste any time in honoring recently retired captain Joe Sakic, as they will retire the surefire Hall of Famer's jersey on opening night at the Pepsi Center. In what figures to be another long season in Denver, this might be the high point.
Oct. 2 and 3: St. Louis versus Detroit/Chicago versus Florida
For the third straight season, the NHL will cross the Atlantic and play regular-season games in Europe. Chicago and Florida will play a pair in Helsinki, while St. Louis and Detroit will face off in Stockholm. Look for the Wings to be afforded a heroes' welcome in Stockholm thanks to their strong contingent of Swedish players, including Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall.
Oct. 2: New York Rangers at Pittsburgh
The New York Rangers will visit Pittsburgh, where the Penguins will raise a Stanley Cup banner at Mellon Arena for the first time since their Cup win in 1992. The game also will start the clock ticking on the final season at Mellon. The Penguins will move into a new home across the street at the start of the 2010-11 season.
Oct. 3: Philadelphia at New Jersey
Barring something dramatic, New Jersey netminder Martin Brodeur will stand between the pipes when the Devils kick off their season at The Rock in New Jersey against the Flyers and their new defensive anchor, Chris Pronger. If Brodeur starts, it will be his 1,000th NHL game. It also will mark new/old head coach Jacques Lemaire's return to the Devils' bench.
Oct. 3: Pittsburgh at New York Islanders
Let's assume John Tavares makes the Islanders' lineup out of training camp. If so, the Islanders' home opener against the Penguins will mark the first of many tests for the first overall pick in June's draft. Unlike previous picks such as Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, whose selections as the top prospect were never really in doubt, Tavares' selection was hotly contested. This will only add to the significant pressure on Tavares to lead the Islanders out of the NHL wilderness.
Oct. 3: Tampa Bay at Atlanta
Speaking of top picks -- and troubled franchises, for that matter -- the Lightning inherited Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman with the second overall pick, although a number of observers felt Hedman was the best player available in the draft. Hedman in all likelihood will be in the Lightning's lineup, too, as they try to rebound from a disastrous 2008-09 season. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see when the season starts what has become of the Lightning's ownership squabbles between principal owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie, given that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman forced Barrie to ante up $10 million to help cover projected losses for this season on Wednesday.
Oct. 8: Chicago at Detroit
Having signed a whopper, 12-year contract with the Blackhawks, Marian Hossa hopes he's found a hockey home after bouncing from Ottawa to Atlanta to Pittsburgh to Detroit and finally Chicago since the end of the 2004-05 lockout. The Hawks hope he may be a piece to the Stanley Cup puzzle. So did the Red Wings. This game marks the first of six clashes between the Central Division foes, who also met in the Western Conference finals and may yet be destined to clash deep in the 2010 playoffs. Don't look for the Joe Louis Arena fans to treat Hossa kindly after he signed with the Hawks on July 1.
Oct. 17: Ottawa at Montreal
Why do you get the feeling that mercurial forward Alexei Kovalev will have a monster year in Ottawa? And why do you feel that he'll save his best for his former mates in Montreal?
The Northeast Division rivals will play six times, and this game at the Bell Centre will mark the first of what figures to be a long season of payback after the Habs remodeled without their best player of the past couple of seasons.
All 30 NHL teams will be in action, marking the second and final time the NHL will feature a full slate of action during the 2009-10 season. The first will be Oct. 3.
Oct. 30: New York Rangers at Minnesota
Marian Gaborik can expect a chilly reception when he and his new Rangers teammates travel to Gaborik's former hockey home in Minnesota to face the Wild.
Nov. 7: Detroit at Toronto
The Hall of Fame Game in Toronto, featuring the Wings at the Maple Leafs, should be a dandy. It will be part of an induction weekend that will honor the enshrinement of Steve Yzerman, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille and Brett Hull, along with New Jersey president and CEO Lou Lamoriello. The game also will provide a little Olympic foreshadowing, given that Mike Babcock, Ken Holland and Yzerman of the Red Wings will guide the Canadian Olympic effort in Vancouver, while Brian Burke and Ron Wilson of the Leafs will be at the helm for the U.S. team.
Nov. 28: Washington at Montreal
The Washington Capitals will be in Montreal, and although details remain sketchy, it is possible that this game will be played at the cavernous Big O (Olympic Stadium) as another in what has been a year of special events marking the team's 100th anniversary.
Dec. 4: Boston at Montreal
In a rare Friday night tilt at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens will host their centennial game against the Boston Bruins. The game will officially mark the team's 100th anniversary.
Jan. 1: Philadelphia at Boston
The third Winter Classic takes place at Fenway Park. Wonder what Carl Yastrzemski and Ted Williams would say about the sound of pucks and sticks echoing off the Green Monster?
Jan. 21: Washington at Pittsburgh
These four-a-season matchups between Pittsburgh and Washington always provide lots of drama thanks to the Crosby versus Ovechkin subplot, a storyline that is likely to follow both superstars throughout their careers. That drama will be brought into sharper focus this season after the Pens' dramatic come-from-behind victory in the second round of the playoffs that culminated in a Game 7 drubbing of Ovechkin and the Caps in Washington.
Hockey Day in Canada, the hockey-mad country's annual daylong homage to the game it loves, will feature an all-Canadian tripleheader in which all six Canadian teams will face off against one another.
Jan. 31: Detroit at Pittsburgh
It's always intriguing to see the previous season's Stanley Cup finalists match up. It's especially appealing in the case of Pittsburgh and Detroit, which have managed to tangle in the finals the past two springs, with the Penguins besting Detroit in a dramatic seven-game set this past June. This season, they face each other twice -- the second on March 22 in Detroit.
Twelve teams will play on this Sunday, the final day before the two-week break for the Olympic Games. There was much discussion about whether the NHL should darken this day's schedule so that players could make their way to Vancouver for the Olympic tournament in a timely fashion. In the end, though, the owners' disdain for the Olympics has been reflected in the fact that some players from teams playing on this day will have to arrive in Vancouver less than a day before the tournament starts.
First regular-season game (Detroit at Colorado) after the Olympic break.
March 5: New Jersey at Calgary
This would have had a more dramatic punch if Calgary and its new head coach, Brent Sutter, had been playing in Newark, but there still should be more than a little drama at hand. The Devils will face off against their former coach, who turned his back on them while claiming to be homesick, only to end up coaching the Flames for his brother, Calgary GM Darryl.
The final day of the regular season with eight contests. Wonder how many will have playoff implications?
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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