Roughly a week after the Pittsburgh Penguins captured the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup, the NHL looked ahead to their 100th season of operation with a sneak peek of the 2016-17 slate.
— SiriusXM NHL Network (@SiriusXMNHL) June 20, 2016
NHL Releases 2016-17 Home Opener Schedule
With the release of the schedule, there are always some interesting storylines that carry over from the past season for certain match-ups. This slate of campaign beginners is no different.
NHL Schedule Release: Intriguing Matchups
St. Louis Blues @ Chicago Blackhawks (Wednesday, Oct. 12th)
The Ken Hitchcock farewell tour begins against Joel Quenneville‘s Blackhawks who look for some early revenge against St. Louis finally taking them out in the postseason last spring in a seven-game classic. With 1,558 wins between the two coaches, it should be a well-managed game with stars like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Kevin Shattenkirk taking part in the on-ice battle. Quenneville and Hitchcock could be 2nd and 3rd in all-time coaching wins by season’s end when the latter’s group wins its 26th game.
Boston Bruins @ Toronto Maple Leafs (Saturday, Oct. 15th)
Welcome to the NHL, Auston Matthews. The soon-to-be 19-year old is the slam dunk #1 consensus pick for Friday’s draft, and he will be playing his first of possibly many at Air Canada Centre. He’s already played against men with Zurich in the Swiss League, posting 24 goals and 46 points in just 36 games. With the Leafs acquiring Frederik Andersen in goal, being very much in play for Steven Stamkos if he hits the open market, and building their future up front with pieces like Nikita Soshnikov, William Nylander, Connor Brown, and Kasperi Kapanen, he could be walking into a situation that looks quite promising after being all but lost two seasons ago.
Boston Bruins @ Columbus Blue Jackets (Thursday, Oct. 13th)
The Bruins will look to avenge their late collapse that prevented them from getting into the postseason in the final days of 2015-16. In addition to it being John Tortorella‘s first full season as head coach of the Blue Jackets, it could be the debut of one Jesse Puljujarvi should he be selected third overall by Columbus in Friday’s draft. Scoring 13 goals in 50 Liiga games last season, the 18-year old could go back to the Finnish League to refine his game. Should he stay in North America, however, he’ll join an interesting top six that boasts Boone Jenner, Cam Atkinson, and Brandon Saad, who each scored 25+ goals and are all 27 and younger.
Anaheim Ducks @ Dallas Stars (Thursday, Oct. 13th)
Each team amassed 45+ wins and won their respective divisions in the regular season yet could not get out of the first two rounds of the playoffs in 2015-16. Lindy Ruff‘s Stars play an up-tempo game and boast many different offensive weapons in Tyler Seguin, 2015 Art Ross Trophy winner Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, and Patrick Sharp up front along with young John Klingberg sending stretch passes from the defense. For the Ducks, Randy Carlyle will be coaching his first game with the team since he was fired in December of 2011. The Ducks went on a late season surge that was led by their power play (23.1%) and penalty kill (87.2%), which both led the League in 2015-16. The team has lost four straight games sevens at home in the playoffs, so Carlyle will need to work some 2007 magic with leaders Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry to get over the hump.
New York Islanders @ New York Rangers (Thursday, Oct. 13th)
Fresh off of their first playoff series win in 23 years, the Islanders will look to get off on the right foot against their in-city rivals, who were ousted in five games by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. This will be the first matchup between the two clubs to open the season since 1997, and may feature two goaltenders that had intriguing campaigns last season. 30-year old Thomas Greiss, paid just $1.5 million entering a contract year, had a career season in 2015-16, posting a .925 save percentage and 2.36 GAA in 41 games played winning 23 contests. 34-year old Henrik Lundqvist had a typical year for him (.920 save percentage, 2.48 GAA), posting a .934 save percentage at even strength to tie Greiss. Each team may be losing an important player to free agency, as Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle and Islanders winger Kyle Okposo will be testing the waters.
Detroit Red Wings @ Tampa Bay Lightning (Thursday, Oct. 13th)
Two wars and 12 battles in the Stanley Cup Playoffs later, the Red Wings and Lightning have a rivalry on their hands. Two relatively skilled teams, they have not been afraid to drop the gloves as seen with Justin Abdelkader and Brian Boyle igniting a couple line brawls in the latest playoff matchup. Animosity aside, the storylines are aplenty. Pavel Datsyuk won’t be penciled into the starting lineup as a member of the team for the first time since 2001. All signs point to Stamkos leaving to test the waters of free agency, and who knows, could be playing for the visitors if Datsyuk’s contract is moved by General Manager Ken Holland to free up cap space. Jeff Blashill is entering his second season with what will definitely be a different looking team, as Kyle Quincey, Brad Richards, Joakim Andersson, and possibly Darren Helm will all be looking for jobs come July 1st. Jon Cooper has gotten the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final and Eastern Conference Final in two straight seasons. Can they finally get over the hump, possibly without their captain?
Washington Capitals @ Pittsburgh Penguins (Thursday, Oct. 13th)
This one needs no introduction, but let’s attempt one. Already a fierce rivalry highlighting stars Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, the latest chapter was added in the Pens’ six-game triumph over the President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, further frustrating a Capitals franchise that hasn’t gotten back to the Conference Finals since 1998. Rookie Matt Murray won the battle of the masked men against Vezina candidate Braden Holtby and will look to prove that his run to the Stanley Cup was no fluke for the rest of his career. Coach Mike Sullivan will be entering his first full season as head coach looking to avoid a Stanley Cup hangover. Barry Trotz will be trying to steer his team on the right foot and get past the second round for once. Trotz too has not been past the 2nd round in his coaching career. Carl Hagelin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Phil Kessel, T.J. Oshie, Kris Letang, and John Carlson will all be on display.