The season finally kicks off on Saturday, January 19th and the NHL big-wigs wanted to make sure they grab the attention of the fans right off the bat. You will not find boring games on the schedule even between teams that struggled last year like Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens. The day is filled with hockey, with games starting as early as 3 pm EST. With no inter-conference games we might feel that we are missing some important match-ups as Mitch mentions in his list, but we do have some awesome games on the opening day nonetheless. So let’s take a look at the big games that we’ve got ahead of us.
Sidney Crosby ” When it’s Philadelphia, I don’t think anyone finds it hard to get up for that one,” and this is true. We all remember how it ended last year, right?
The truth is that I have been dying to see these two teams go at it and the NHL has done the smart thing with kicking off the season with these two playing at 3 pm Saturday. The 2012 playoffs were amazing in so many ways – they started with a “Bang”, and they fittingly finished with a great team lifting the Cup. The series between the Flyers and Penguins equated to 7284 goals and 9248 penalty minutes (well, actually 56 goals and 312 penalty minutes). The series did its best to erase the notion that goalies can stop pucks and are only afraid of “bears in forests” (thanks, Bryz), Crosby-brand tears can get you drunk, and Claude Giroux and Sidney Crosby are best friends. The fact is that this is a grudge match and if you think the players forgot about all of the trash talking and Crosby/Giroux wrist slashing, they didn’t. As soon as the puck drops there will be a whole lot of nasty back. This is one of the most exciting match-ups on the schedule. My mouth is literally watering with excitement.
This is another 3 pm match up that will get a national broadcast air time on NBC. There are two main reasons I put this game on this list – Marian Hossa is back and is supposedly 100 percent recovered from the devastating and illegal hit by Raffi Torres during last year’s playoffs. The hit was brutal and Torres will miss eight games this season because of it. Hossa is reportedly in the best shape of his career so it will be exciting to watch him play some hockey. The other thing that you may or may not have forgotten is that the LA Kings won the Stanley Cup last year. Yeah, they are back and finally able to defend their Championship rights. So the ceremony and all of the banner raising will be nice to see. I am sure we will see a sell out crowd and the atmosphere should be great for both teams to try to start the season with a bang. You have tons of offensive skill on both sides and this will make for great TV. Will Jonathon Quick continues his stellar play in net for LA? Who will start in net for the Blackhawks? Will the LA Kings have any trouble winning without Anze Kopitar? Another must watch game.
This game will start at 7 pm EST. Adam Oates returns to Washington to heal this team’s offensive disease that seems to have plagued the Capitals’ stars last year. We will see if Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Bäckström, and Mike Green can return to their world class star statuses. The biggest improvement has to come from Ovechkin as he should continue to build from his KHL success and return to a point per game level and 50-goal pace he has been known for. Mike Green will need to resurrect his offensive talent and it will be very interesting to see what Oates can scheme up to take advantage of Green’s shot and puck-moving ability. I am very curious to see who will start in net for Capitals as well. We have Holtby and Neuvrith battling for the number one position, but will most likely see the hot goalie in net down the road, while I would expect Holtby to get the nod in the season opener. In Tampa we have some newcomers. Anders Lindback comes in to solidify the goaltending position (coincidentally this addition has everyone buzzing about possible playoffs spot for Tampa Bay) and most will assume that he can handle that load. Stevie Yzerman also stocked up on the defensive talent. Matt Carle and Sami Salo give some offensive punch from the point and of course we can’t freaking wait to see Stamkos play. How many goals will he score in the game? I am betting two for Steven Stamkos in this game and two for Ovie. Well, yeah, I am hoping for two 40 goal seasons from both of them.
The game will be extra bittersweet for the Devils/Nashville fans, but it is what it is. We finally get to see the improved Wild hit the ice. The expectations really sky rocketed after two monster signings. If you remember the 24/7, Parise/Suter-mania frenzy that had everything from owners flying in for personal visits, to secret messages between the two players, with a sort of a packaged deal ending all of the hoopla. There were about 95,000 tweets and guesses, but in the end it was all settled with two identical monster deals each worth $98 million for something like 100 years. We also get to see a healthy Mikko Koivu (This guy is one of the more underrated players in NHL right now), and my personal favorite part about this game will be watching the young stud Mikael Granlund.
Granlund had his name surrounded with lots of hype and I can’t wait to see if his play lives up to all the media attention. On the Avalanche end we have a young team that will have to prove itself once again. Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny need a healthy season that can help them get back to that high level play and maybe get into the top 10/15 in scoring in the league. Varlamov will be exciting to watch as well, because he has been a complete brick wall while playing in the KHL (He made my sleeper pick list). The talent pool may be not as deep in the KHL, but his numbers were impressive nonetheless. Every NHL game offers best of the hockey world, but these teams posses some dynamic young players that are sure to put on a good show.
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Main photo credit: Dinur via photopin cc