2011-2012 NHL Season: 16 Games You Have to Watch in October

Franklin SteeleAnalyst IIOctober 4, 2011

2011-2012 NHL Season: 16 Games You Have to Watch in October

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    I no longer have to end random Tweets with the hashtag Isitoctoberyet—thankfully because it didn't seem to be catching on.  After what felt like the longest offseason of my life, we're set to drop the puck on the 2011-2012 NHL regular season.

    While there were plenty of story lines to follow this summer that pried at just about every emotion of every NHL fan, on Thursday night, hockey itself resumes.  

    After a crazy free agency period that saw the New York Rangers land their star center in Brad Richards, hockey resumes.

    After the Flyers overhauled their top notch squad on the fly, and secured their goaltender (finally), hockey resumes.

    After the game lost far too many far too early this summer, in their memory, hockey resumes.

    There are as many questions as there are answers to start the season.  Will Sidney Crosby return from his concussion soon?  How badly will the Red Wings miss Brian Rafalski?

    And we'll start answering these questions starting on Thursday.  Here are 16 games you just can't miss during the month of October.  Like you needed another reason to make the jump to NHL Center Ice.

October 6th: Philadelphia vs. Boston

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    Why it's a can't-miss game:  The Bruins will be raising their Stanley Cup banner on this night, a trophy that they won via a road that ran straight through Philadelphia.  The loss arguably led to the Flyers making drastic changes to their roster and acquiring Ilya Bryzgalov, lest they be the victims of another Tim Thomas-like performance.

    The TD Garden will be rockin', and both teams will be looking to make a statement early.  I'm in.

    Players to watch:  Ilya Bryzgalov, Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara, Tyler Seguin, Jaromir Jagr, James van Riemsdyk, Claude Giroux, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton.  Just to name a few.

October 8th: Boston vs. Tampa Bay

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    Why it's a can't-miss game:  If I need to explain this, then you just weren't paying attention during the playoffs.  The upstart Lightning gave the eventual Cup champ Bruins everything they could handle.  The series was a classic, and it could prove to be the beginning of a good competitive rivalry between the two highly talented squads.

    Players to watch:  Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Victor Hedman.

October 9th: Montreal vs. Winnipeg

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    Why it's a can't-miss game:  Montreal's first trip to Winnipeg just intrigues me.  I feel like the Jets fans are going to want to make an impression on the visiting Canadians.  The Bell Centre is one of the loudest, most electric buildings in hockey—arguably in sports in general.  The Jets faithful may take that as a challenge.

    Players to watch:  Carey Price, P.K. Subban, Brian Gionta, Max Pacioretty, Evander Kane, Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien.  

October 12th: Vancouver vs. Philadelphia

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    Why it's a can't-miss game:  Is this a possible Stanley Cup final matchup?  The Flyers and their faithful sure hope to be in that conversation.  Just six days into the regular season, odds are we won't know quite where Philly stands.  A game against the Canucks is sure to be a litmus test (one of my favorite sports cliches, I must admit) for the squad.

    Players to watch:  Where to start.  The Sedin twins, Roberto Luongo, Alex Edler, Cody Hodgson, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Chris Pronger, Jakub Voracek.

October 13th: Washington vs. Pittsburgh

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    Why it's a can't-miss game:  It's the Caps and the Penguins.  What else do you need to know?  Two of the most competitive, loaded lineups in hockey always make for an entertaining game no matter the time of year.  If Sidney Crosby is back by this point, it could be one of his first contests, but even without Sid the Kid there are plenty of players here to make this a date worth circling.

    Players to watch:  Alexander Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Tomas Vokoun, Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Sidney Crosby.

October 13th: Vancouver vs. Detroit

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    Why it's a can't-miss game:  While the Pens and Caps battle it out for an important win over a top opponent in the East, the same type of contest will be happening out West.  

    The Red Wings will take on the Western Conference champion Canucks.  This is an early-season test for both squads against tough opposition.  The winner of this game will take a jump up most power rankings and get a boost of confidence for downing an outstanding team.  Be sure to have your remote's last function programmed between these two games on October 13th—they should both be early-season doozies.

    Players to watch:  Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, the Sedin twins, Mason Raymond, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Darren Helm, Niklas Kronwall.

October 14th: San Jose vs. Anaheim

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    Why it's a can't-miss game:  There's no love lost among any of the Pacific Division teams, lest of all the trio of squads in California.  

    San Jose made some big changes in the offseason, shedding some offensive firepower up front (Heatley, Setoguchi) in favor of more power from the blue line (Burns).  The Sharks are poised to make a trip to the Stanley Cup finals, but Anaheim is never an easy out, even during the regular season.  Anaheim's biggest addition is a healthy Jonas Hiller in net, while the Sharks may be in a little bit of early-season trouble with injuries mounting in net.

    Players to watch:  Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, Lubomir Visnovsky, Joe Thornton, Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture.

October 15th: New York vs. New York

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    Why it's a can't-miss game:  The New York Rangers and the New York Islanders games always have an added layer of intensity due to the proximity of the two teams. Rangers fans go to Islanders games, Islanders fans go to Madison Square...all the fun of a playoff game in the middle of October.

    Players to watch:  Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky, Henrik Lundqvist, John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner, Travis Hamonic.

October 15th: Buffalo vs. Pittsburgh

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    Why it's a can't-miss game:  The new-look Sabres, who spent right up to the salary cap, will take on the perennial contender Penguins in a midmonth match that could be between two of the top teams in the East.  The forward cores are deep, and the goaltending will force both sides to play smart, offensive hockey.

    Players to watch:  Evgeni Malkin, Steve Sullivan, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang, Ryan Miller, Christian Ehrhoff, Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy.

October 18th: St. Louis vs. Los Angeles

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    Why this is a can't-miss game:  This game isn't traditional must-see television, but starting this season it could be.  Both LA and St. Louis boast young, exciting hockey teams that play an entertaining brand of hockey.  Both squads boast high-end goaltending, but the potential for offensive fireworks is certainly there.

    Players to watch:  Drew Doughty, Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar, Simon Gagne, David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Chris Stewart, Alex Pietrangelo.

October 22nd: San Jose vs. Boston

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    Why it's a can't-miss game:  Arguably two of the top six teams in the NHL face off in what could be a preview of the Stanley Cup final.  Boston will be entrenched in their defense of Lord Stanley's Cup, and San Jose will be just as mentally focused on finally winning the whole thing.  Both the Sharks and Bruins will have something to prove in this game.

    Players to watch:  Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Dennis Seidenberg, Joe Pavelski, Martin Havlat, Ryane Clowe, Dan Boyle.

October 22nd: Detroit vs. Washington

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    Why it's a can't-miss game:  Oh look.  Another possible Stanley Cup finals matchup on Saturday, October 22nd.  This trend can't be a coincidence.  The Red Wings will be a few weeks into life without Brian Rafalski, and the effect of his absence will be quantifiable by this point.  How they manage to compete with the Capitals will give them a good idea of where they stand in the scheme of things.

    Players to watch:  Nicklas Lidstrom, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, Dan Cleary, Alex Ovechkin, Joel Ward, John Carlson, Mike Green.

October 25th: Anaheim vs. Chicago

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    Why it's a can't-miss game:  Both the 'Hawks and Ducks boast some of the youngest, most talented forwards in the league.  Goals shouldn't be too hard to come by in this contest of offensive superpowers.  There is also plenty of firepower from the blue line.  The only players in this game without a bit of a scoring touch are the goalies.

    Players to watch:  Teemu Selanne, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa.

October 27th: Montreal vs. Boston

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    Why it's a can't-miss game:  This one is all about the Zdeno Chara-Max Pacioretty intrigue.  The two haven't been on the ice together since the incident, and while Chara may have settled the score with the Canadians as a team, he still hasn't had to look the kid in the eyes during a faceoff yet.  He will on this night.

    Players to watch:  Tim Thomas, Tyler Seguin, Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Erik Cole, Mike Cammalleri.

October 28th: San Jose vs. Detroit

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    Why it's a can't-miss game:  If the seven game classic between these two teams during the playoffs didn't convince you that this is must-see hockey, then you might be watching the wrong sport.  The Wings and Sharks played each other to the closest Stanley Cup series in recent (and lengthy) memory.  I sincerely doubt either squad forgot that over the summer.

    Players to watch:  Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Antti Niemi, Brent Burns, Pavel Datsyuk, Justin Abdelkader, Ian White, Jimmy Howard.

October 31st: Nashville vs. Chicago

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    Why it's a can't-miss game:  Nashville always has a better team than most give them credit for, but that fact won't be lost on the Blackhawks.  This is a possible early-playoff round matchup that could get feisty.  This is also a definite clash in styles.

    Players to watch:  Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Andrew Brunette, Corey Crawford, Pekka Rinne, Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Mike Fisher.