The best games of the NHL season often include unpredictable comebacks and rivals swapping goals until the buzzer sounds. Any time the Chicago Blackhawks meet the St. Louis Blues, or the Philadelphia Flyers meet the Pittsburgh Penguins, the NHL markets the games as much as possible due to their widespread appeal.
Obviously, there will be plenty of league-sponsored focus on big dates like the outdoor games, but those aren’t always the best games for the average hockey fan.
These four days should prove to be quite exciting for anyone dying for puck drop:
The NHL season kicks off on Oct. 12 with matchups between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators, St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, and Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.
However, the real treat will be when the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins hit the ice for the first time in the new season. The Penguins will battle their 2016 postseason opponent Washington Capitals in yet another chapter of the Sidney Crosby vs. Alexander Ovechkin saga. This time Ovechkin will have to watch Crosby’s Penguins have a banner raised, a surefire means of inspiration for the Capitals’ captain.
Elsewhere in the NHL, the New York Rangers will look to defeat the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden for the first time since January 31, 2014, while Cory Schneider will butt heads with Roberto Luongo and the new-look Florida Panthers for the first time.
The first meeting between 2015 first-overall pick Connor McDavid and 2016 first-overall pick Auston Matthews will take place in Toronto. The game will be McDavid’s first appearance in the biggest market in Canada after missing last season’s game in Toronto with an injury, and the duo will be expected to put on a show.
Neither the Maple Leafs nor the Oilers made the postseason last year, but the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning both did. Tampa Bay will return to the Barclays for the first time on Nov. 1, looking to repeat their postseason magic. The Lightning slayed the Islanders in a five game series, including two overtime victories at the Barclays Center.
Other games in the NHL on Nov. 1 include St. Louis taking on the Rangers, Buffalo and Minnesota battling in the hockey state, and Boston clashing with their divisional rival Florida Panthers. 24 teams will be in action on what should be a fantastic night of hockey.
A night of returns will see Kyle Okposo and Matt Moulson return to John Tavares’ home-ice in a matchup between the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders. It will be Okposo’s first time back in New York following his signing with the Sabres in the offseason, and he should get a rousing ovation from the Islanders faithful.
In Arizona, the return will have a bit of a different twist. Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs will play at the Coyotes, marking Matthews’ debut in his home state of Arizona. Matthews’ family and friends are largely based around the Phoenix area, so the night should be a fun homecoming for the phenom.
The 23rd will also mark the last slate of games before the Christmas break, including matchups between top Eastern Conference teams such as the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals, and the Detroit Red Wings vs. the Florida Panthers. The old bosses will take on the new bosses in the West, with the Los Angeles Kings visiting the Dallas Stars.
P.K. Subban will lace up his skates against the Montreal Canadiens for the first time in his career on Jan. 3, 2017. Shea Weber will return to Nashville for the first time since the trade as well, hoping to get a little revenge against his former teammates.
Subban and Weber were swapped in the biggest trade of the offseason, and on this night the two will look to prove their doubters wrong. Weber was the face of the Predators franchise throughout his career, so it should be expected that he receives a massive ovation when he returns. All eyes will be on Subban, however, as his exit from Montreal was less amicable.
Meanwhile, in Columbus, Jesse Puljujarvi will have the opportunity to show the Blue Jackets why they shouldn’t have passed him over at No. 3. Puljujarvi was widely expected to be picked by the Blue Jackets, but Columbus instead chose Pierre-Luc Dubois, leaving Puljujarvi to be taken by the Oilers. It would be understandable if Puljujarvi has a chip on his shoulder heading into the season, making his first appearance in Columbus a must-see matchup.
Elsewhere, Los Angeles will play San Jose in a rekindling of one of the great NHL rivalries, and Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres will visit the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden as well.