Fall is one of my favorite seasons. For one, I love the weather and use of warm sweaters in my wardrobe. Second, I love watching the leaves change color. But most importantly, I love that with the coming of fall brings, NHL HOCKEY. Its been a long summer especially without NHL or Winter Olympics to enjoy. It seems like my body was overstimulated with winter sport in early 2010. Today, we get to enjoy the season opener with 5 match ups and I’m going to talk about all of them. Its shaping up to be an interesting season. There have been a lot of trades. Some beneficial and some devastating to a teams fan base. But how will that effect the climb to the Cup playoffs? It all starts now.
Carolina Hurricanes vs. Minnesota Wild
This game is the first of 3 games to take place in Europe as part of the premiere of the season. Today, these teams square off in Helsinki, Finland while Friday we hit Stockholm, Sweden and Sunday we end up in Prague, Czech Republic. This will be a new era for the Hurricanes as long time captain Rod Brind’Amour announced his retirement at the close of last season and passed the torch on to Eric Staal who has clearly began to own the club. Other than Staal, the team is relying on a few of their veterans to help deliver a strong offense including Jokinen, who was the surprise success last season scoring 30 goals in 81 games destroying his previous personal best. The Wild on the other hand have a lot to prove. They missed the playoffs for the second time in a row and finished 13th out of 15 teams in the Western conference. A big disappointment last year for the Wild was the let down of the 6-year, $30 Million dollar contracted Martin Havlat. He didn’t perform at par to prove the worth of his placement. Havlat is Minnesota’s highest-paid player outside of goaltender Niklas Backstrom and he needs to start producing more offense if the Wild have any chance at getting back to the postseason. Havlat is currently battling a groin injury, but is expected to play today.
Flyers vs. Penguins
The Penguins have home ice advantage as they host the Flyers tonight in the season opener. Tonight’s matchup pits the winners of the last three Eastern Conference titles against each other. The Pens won the East in back-to-back years (2008-09) and also won the Stanley Cup title in ’09. The Flyers claimed the conference title last year before losing to Chicago in six games during the Cup Finals. The Penguins dominated over the Flyers throughout the duration of the season last year when they won five out of six pairings between the two teams. Penguins captain Sydney Crosby is looking forward to the opener saying he’s excited to play in the new arena against a known rival. The Penguins also added four more members to the rookery including Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek and forwards Aaron Asham and Mike Comrie. Its an interesting switch for Asham as he played for the Flyers the last two seasons. Trouble also comes to the Flyers as one of their prominent stars from last season, goaltender Michael Leighton, is said to be sidelined for the first month of the season with an injured back. Chris Pronger is also in question with a knee injury while Ian Laperriere is sidelined indefinitely with post-concussion symptoms.
Habs vs. Maples Leafs
Its a classic Canadian match-up today as the Leafs host their rival Canadiens. Before the Leafs can even think about joining the playoff neighborhood, they must first find the stairs out of the Northeast division basement. The Leafs will start Jean-Sebastien Giguere tonight, while Montreal, after a day of fretting about a flu bug hampering Carey Price, will likely go with him. He made it to practice on Thursday last week which is a good sign he’ll make the ice. The Leafs have a number of new players in the lineup and are once more vowing to be an intimidating team to make up for their offensive shortcomings. Nikolai Kulemin, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel had a great pre-season and with the additions of Clarke MacArthur, Mike Brown and Kris Versteeg, it’s an exciting group of forwards who scored a lot in pre-season. Centres Mike Zigomanis and Tim Brent will also be making their Leaf debuts. Top gun Mike Cammalleri is a scratch for Montreal, with Lars Eller taking his place on the first line. With the holes in the Candiens line up and the newbies on the Leafs, this game could shape up to be an interesting one.
Blackhawks vs. Avalanche
Whether the Blackhawks can become the first team in 12 seasons to repeat as Stanley Cup champions might depend on how wisely they managed their money. With several key members gone and some newcomers joining its young core, Chicago opens its Cup defense against the Colorado Avalanche tonight in Denver. The Blackhawks felt the weight of the the NHL salary cap and began wheeling and dealing just as soon as the cup marched down the streets of their city. With Niemi and Huet gone, former Dallas stalwart Marty Turco was signed to a one-year contract. The three-time All-Star is coming off two of his worst seasons but the Blackhawks are hoping that with a better supporting cast, he’ll shine through. The Avalanche, meanwhile, will likely have Matt Duchene back from illness for the opener. In 2009-10, the Calder finalist led all rookies with 55 points and finished tied for first with 24 goals. The Avalanche had as many as 10 rookies on their roster last season while finishing eighth in the West with 95 points. Those first-year players combined for 64 goals and 102 assists. They still appear to be a young team but now with a year under their belts, they should be able to compete with the best of them.
Flames vs. Oilers
Its a great Alberta rivalry and I can’t think of a better way to open the NHL season. The Flames need to step it up in the goal scoring department if they want to stop watching the playoffs from the comfort of their homes. The Flames scored the fewest goals in the NHL last season. In an attempt to ease the offensive burden off captain Jarome Iginla, GM Darryl Sutter decided to bring back recycled forwards Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay, a move that didn’t sit well with Flames fans. The Oilers bottomed out and finished in the NHL’s basement with the leafs last season. The lone positive was Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini selected winger Taylor Hall with the first overall pick in June’s entry draft. Hall’s nose for the net and one-on-one skill was evident in pre-season, and the Windsor Spitfires’ sensation leads a young class of rookies that include Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson and Jordan Eberle. Edmonton has missed the playoffs every year since the team appeared in the Stanley Cup final in 2006. And don’t expect that to change. While the club appears headed for another possible top-five selection in the draft, all is not lost. Hall, Paajarvi-Svensson and Eberle represent a bright future for the Oilers and their fans.