With the 2011-2012 NHL season just over a week away fans are getting set to watch their teams as they will claw their way through a rigorous schedule vying for a playoff spot in hopes to bring Lord Stanley to their city. With 1,230 games being played during the course of the season there will be plenty of good hockey to watch as well as plenty of games that will disappoint. I will be watching as many games as I can but here are the five games that I have circled on my calendar:
5. December 29th, 2011 – Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins: On this night Jaromir Jagr will be returning to Pittsburgh after spending the last three years in the KHL. During the off season the Penguins showed interest in bringing the Czech superstar back to the city that first saw him emerge as a true star in the league earning 1,079 pts in 806 games as a Penguin, before continuing his NHL career split between Washington and Broadway. Instead Jagr chose to sign with division/state rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. I’m curious to see how the Pittsburgh fans react to the return of Jagr and I’m even more eager just to see how Jagr performs in the NHL at the age of 39.
4. October 27th, 2011 – Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins: Habs-Bruins games are never ones to miss but this game will have more meaning. After losing to their most hated rivals in overtime of game seven in last spring’s Eastern Conference quarterfinal, the Canadiens were sent home only to watch the Bruins go on to capture their first Stanley Cup win in 39 years. This will also be the first time Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty and Zdeno Chara will be facing each other since the controversial hit last season that left Pacioretty with a severe concussion as well as a fractured vertebrae. Two teams that have always hated each other now hate each other more and should make for a great game.
3. October 9th 2011 – Montreal Canadiens vs. Winnipeg Jets: Winnipeg’s first home game in 15 years should be electrifying. By this point there have already been some pre-season games and the fans have had a taste of NHL hockey. However, for the first time since March 28th, 1996 Winnipeg fans will have an NHL team playing a meaningful game with its full roster. Add that their first home game after losing their team a decade and a half ago will be played against the most storied franchise in the Montreal Canadiens and that should make for one of the most exciting games of the season.
2. ??? – Pittsburgh Penguins vs. ???: Sidney Crosby’s return is already one of the most anticipated games of the season. No matter how early into the season or how late. They could be facing a division rival, an NHL powerhouse or a team in the basement. Crosby’s return will be watched closely by fans, personnel, sponsors and league executives. I am not a Penguins fan and I have no money invested in him but I will watch simply because he is the best player in the league returning for the first time since last January. Sidney Crosby is a phenomenal talent and the face of the league, the fans need him and the game needs him.
So far three out of the four games on my list have focused on a “returning” theme and so I will end it with another.
1. December 17th 2011 – Anaheim Ducks vs. Winnipeg Jets: On December 17th at the MTS Center, the “Finnish Flash” will return to the city that drafted him 10th overall in 1988, a city that saw him break into the NHL and establish himself as a superstar right away. In the 1992-93 season, Teemu Selanne enjoyed a record breaking rookie season scoring 76 goals breaking Mike Bossy’s previous record by 23 goals and earning 132 points breaking Peter Stastny’s record of 109 points. Selanne’s first game back in Winnipeg, and most probably his last is sure to be a must see game. It will be hard not to get lost in the excitement of the game as the crowd welcomes Selanne back to the city that gave him his start to what will no doubt be a hall of fame career.
I couldn’t help but leave the Winter Classic off this list. The winter classic is by far the most over-hyped game each season and for me it lost any special meaning when it became an annual event. If I’m going to put this game on my list I may as well choose the all-star game, but at least with the all-star game you get the semi-entertaining skills competition and a guaranteed high scoring game.
Enjoy the season!
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