Last week, the NHL released the 2011-2012 schedule for all 30 teams in the league. Every team has big games that they have highlighted on their calendars, and the Pittsburgh Penguins are no different.
The Penguins are especially looking forward to this season to put Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin back in their lineups and make a deep run in the playoffs. They don't want to repeat last season's playoff exit against the Tampa Bay Lightning, where they dropped a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
From an opening season stretch in Western Canada to three out of four of their final games against divisional rivals, here are some games that will be worth watching in every month of the 2011-2012 season.
The Penguins will kick off the season on Thursday, October 6, as they travel to British Columbia to take on the 2011 Stanley Cup runner-up Vancouver Canucks. From there, they will take on the Calgary Flames on October 7 at the Penngrowth Saddledome and the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place on Sunday, October 9.
Two days later, the Penguins will open their second season at Consol Energy Center against the Florida Panthers. Although that might seem to be a bit of a tame home opener, Penguins fans need not wait long for some fireworks. The Washington Capitals will be in town on October 13.
On October 17, the Penguins will be back in Canada, but this time, they will be taking on the new Winnipeg Jets. They don't get much of a rest from there, as they will face the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center on October 18. It will be the first time the Penguins see Mike Yeo on the visiting team's bench, as Pittsburgh's former assistant coach recently accepted the head coaching job with the Wild.
Pittsburgh then has a home-and-home series with the New York Islanders on October 25 and 27. Will there be a new rivalry as a result of some of the antics between the two teams last season, or will the games be relatively peaceful?
The Pens close out the month with a visit to the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 29.
When the Penguins visit Los Angeles, they will see a team anchored by former division rival Mike Richards. Only time will tell if he pushes the Penguins' buttons like he did as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Also, Pittsburgh will get to see former teammate Rob Scuderi run the Kings' blue line for the third year in a row, the final on his contract.
November 12 will see the Penguins visit the Carolina Hurricanes. This is always an interesting game, as I think there's a reference in there about how Jordan and Eric Staal are related. In case you don't know, you'll be reminded about 50 times during the game.
The Penguins will go to Florida on November 17 to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning for the first time since the Bolts eliminated them in the 2011 Eastern Conference quarterfinals. They come back home for Thanksgiving week for two games before and after Turkey Day. The St. Louis Blues are in town on January 23, and Sergei Gonchar and the Ottawa Senators will be in Consol Energy Center for an evening game on Black Friday.
November ends with a visit to New York City to take on the New York Rangers. I think Jordan has another brother there. But again, not to worry if you still can't make the connection. Isn't it great having TV announcers who inform us of the same thing in every broadcast?
Penguins fans want exciting games for Christmas, and they will get those in the month of December.
On December 5, the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins will be in Pittsburgh. As if that weren't good enough, the Penguins will head to Philadelphia on December 8 for their first meeting of the season with the Flyers. The Flyers may be without Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, but this won't be easy for the Penguins, as the Flyers still have dangerous players such as Claude Giroux and Chris Pronger, along with Ilya Bryzgalov in goal.
The Detroit Red Wings, who will have Nicklas Lidstrom for a 20th season, are in town on December 13. Pittsburgh will go back to Winnipeg to play the Jets before heading out for Christmas break on December 23.
It's back to work on December 27, as Eric Staal and Cam Ward lead the Hurricanes into Pittsburgh. The Flyers take their trip to Consol Energy Center on December 29, and the Pens and the New Jersey Devils will meet up at 1 p.m. on New Year's Eve at Prudential Center.
The first month of 2012 will be about division rivalries, as the Penguins have home and road games against both the Capitals and the Rangers. Pittsburgh plays Washington on January 11 in D.C. and on January 22 in Pittsburgh. They face the Blueshirts at home on January 6 and at Madison Square Garden on January 19.
On January 24, the Penguins and the Blues will meet for the second time this year, this time on the Penguins' home ice.
After visiting Boston to take on the Bruins on February 4, the Penguins' schedule is highlighted by two home games against the Bolts on February 12 and February 25.
The Jets will make their first visit to Pittsburgh on February 10, and the Columbus Blue Jackets are in town on February 26. Pittsburgh will get to face former archrival Jeff Carter for the first time in the 2011-12 season.
Normally, the Penguins also get a road game in Columbus, and numerous Pittsburgh fans make the trip. However, Pittsburgh is not on Columbus' home schedule for this season.
On March 3, the Penguins will travel to Colorado to take on the Avalanche. It will be the second year in a row the Penguins have visited Denver.
In addition, the Penguins will go to New Jersey for another holiday matchup. They will play the Devils at 1 p.m. on St. Patrick's Day. They'd better not act too Irish, though, because the next day, they are in Philadelphia to take on the Flyers. The game is at 3 p.m. for now, but you bet NBC will do anything they can to get this game on national TV.
Hopefully by this time, the Penguins have solidified a spot in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Two of the Penguins' final three home games will be against the much-hated Flyers (April 1 and April 7). In between that, they will hit the road for the last time on April 3 to take on the Bruins. On April 5, their second-to-last home game is against the Rangers.
Where do the Penguins go from here?
We can't say for sure, but every Pens fan wants to hear that they'll head back to the promised land of winning the 2012 Stanley Cup.