NHL season promises entertaining match-ups

The NHL regular-season starts this Saturday and in lieu of biased/subjective predictions on how the season will play out, let’s instead take a look at some of the must-see televised match-ups to come:
•Sept. 29, Ducks vs. Kings
This one is the season-opener, but there’s plenty of other reasons to watch. For one, it’s the first chance fans will have to see how the Ducks look an off-season removed from the Stanley Cup.
Two, it’ll be one of the few chances to see the Kings on Canadian television this year—a shame, considering they’ve got a slew of young, exciting players like Anze Kopitar, Jack Johnson, and a rookie goalie by the name of Jonathan Bernier, who just may start this game.
Of course, the real reason to watch this game is that it’s part of a home-and-home to be held in London, England. The hockey should be good and the sideshow should be excellent.
•Oct. 3, Senators vs. Maple Leafs
Ever since the lockout, this has been the match-up to start the season and, the London weekend aside, this year will be no different. This rivalry is always exciting, and it’ll be the first game the Sens have since falling in five to the aforementioned Ducks.
If you miss this one, there’s always the rematch in Ottawa the day after.
•Oct. 6, Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs
Speaking of rivalries, this one is more for history, but the two faced off in what wound up being the highest-rated regular-season NHL game of all time in what turned out to be one of the most explosive games in recent history (even if the victorious Leafs still were kept out of the playoffs).
The first full “Hockey Night in Canada” broadcast, it will be followed by a Canucks/Flames tilt that also should entertain.
•Oct. 23, Avalanche vs. Oilers
The hockey may well be dull as dishwater (it’d be a stretch for both these teams to make the playoffs) but this will be Ryan Smyth’s first game in Edmonton since being dealt to Long Island at last year’s trade deadline.
After the Pronger debacle last year, this is getting to be close to an annual thing for Oilers’ fans.
•Nov. 21, Senators vs. Sabres
This rivalry has been strong for years but last year’s upset of the Sabres in the Eastern conference final has it looking even fiercer than before.
Their first meeting of the regular-season actually will be the week before, but it’s not scheduled on any national English network at the moment.
•Dec. 26, Maple Leafs vs. N.Y. Islanders
Just about the only hockey around Christmas aside from the IIHF World Juniors.
•Jan. 1, Penguins vs. Sabres
The so-called “Winter Classic” to be held outdoors at Ralph Wilson Stadium (home of the Buffalo Bills). A marquee match-up with dynamic young players that promises some fast, exciting hockey, plus the spectacle of taking place outdoors.
Should take advantage of having most of the bugs worked out during 2003’s Heritage Classic.
•Jan. 30, Sharks vs. Flames
The Sharks aren’t on TV north of the border enough, but given the playing styles between these two (Calgary GM Darryl Sutter was a longtime coach in San Jose), this one should be a blast.
Both teams are built to go deep into the playoffs, so this is a potential conference final match-up.
•Feb. 9, Red Wings vs. Maple Leafs
“Hockey Day in Canada” starts with an original six match-up, followed by Oilers/Flames, Habs/Sens, and Avs/Canucks.
•Feb. 15, Blue Jackets vs. Red Wings
This is one of the rare chances to see the Columbus Blue Jackets on national Canadian TV, and if in mid-February they’re clicking, this may be most fans’ only chance to see them this year before the playoffs.
The Blue Jackets are the only team in the NHL to never make the playoffs, and if they’re in the mix at this point, they’ll turn it up against a divisional rival like Detroit.
If they’re not in the mix, a legless Columbus team will be fodder for the trapping Red Wings, so consider this one a conditional recommend.
•March 8, Blues vs. Canucks
This’ll be the only time St. Louis is on TV this season, and they just might earn a playoff spot this year. If nothing else, this is one of the youngest, freshest teams in hockey, and they should attract their share of attention by March.
•March 29, Oilers vs. Flames
One of the great rivalries in hockey, and if either team still needs a win at this point (which is pretty likely), it’ll be a hard-fought one. Will be preceded by a Habs/Leafs match-up, so this should be a great night of hockey.
•April 5, Maple Leafs vs. Canadiens
What’s this? The chances of this rematch of last year’s season-ender having the same ramifications are slim, but both clubs at the very least could be battling for the same seed in the playoffs.

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