Finally, after what seems like forever, hockey is back. Here is a look at the Vancouver Canucks schedule for October 2011.
- Thursday October 6th vs Pittsburgh Penguins
- Monday October 10th @ Columbus Blue Jackets
- Wednesday October 12th@ Philadelphia Flyers
- Thursday October 13th @ Detroit Red Wings
- Saturday October 15th @ Edmonton Oilers
- Tuesday October 18th vs New York Rangers
- Thursday October 20th vs Nashville Predators
- Saturday October 22 vs Minnesota Wild (1pm matinee)
- Tuesday October 25th @ Edmonton Oilers
- Wednesday October 26th vs St. Louis Blues
- Saturday October 29th vs Washington Capitals
All in all there are 10 games in October, including two back-to-backs series, and a four-game road trip. Four of the games are against Eastern Conference opponents, and three of the games are against Northwest division rivals.
-Pittsburgh Penguins (October 6th): This game is more notable for who is not playing, with Selke Trophy winner Ryan Kesler and Sidney Crosby both out with injuries. Still, a healthy Evgeni Malkin and company will go head-to-head with the Sedins in what should be an entertaining start to the season. Also, look for the return of the most hated man in the NHL, as Matt Cooke returns to Vancouver.
Which game are you looking forward to the most?
-New York Rangers (October 18th): Not really notable for the Rangers themselves, but this will be the tribute night for Rick Rypien.
-Minnesota Wild (October 22nd): A rare matinee game. I guess the early start combined with the time zone difference between Vancouver and Minnesota will give Dany Heatley an excuse for his lack of motivation, right? But games between the Wild and Canucks are always heated affairs, so this one should be a physical affair.
-Nashville Predators (October 20th): Rivalries are made in the playoffs, and the Preds can't be happy that their last memory of the 2011 playoffs was being ousted on their home ice. (Also possibly one of the last times to see BC boy Shea Weber in a Preds uniform.)
Canucks to watch:
-Cody Hodgson: October is basically his extended audition for a meaningful role on the Canucks this year. With Ryan Kesler expected to be out for the month recovering from hip surgery, the second line centre role is Hodgson's. Hopefully he makes the best of the opportunity.
-Cory Schneider: Expect backup goalie Schneider to get three starts during October. He should play in both the back to backs, and there will be another start in there, possibly on the four-game road trip. Alain Vigneault will have to balance getting Roberto Luongo back into midseason form and also getting Schneider enough starts to pad his resume for the eventual trade.
-Keith Ballard: After a debacle of a first season in Vancouver, can Ballard regain his form? He doesn't need to be the best defender on the team like he was in Florida and Phoenix—just a solid player. Also a player to watch for his highlight reel hip checks.
-Marco Sturm: The real test for Sturm begins on October 6th. Is he fully healed from his knee injuries? Can he be the explosive player Canucks fans remember from his days with the Sharks? Will he be an upgrade on Mason Raymond as the second line left-winger?
-Dan Hamhuis, Mikael Samuelsson, and Manny Malhotra: Are these key Canucks, who ended the playoffs on the injured list, fully healed? With Vigneault's decision to hold the veterans out of the majority of preseason games, it is hard to tell how they will perform in actual game situations.
The Canucks will go 5-4-2 in October. They are historically a slow starting team, which isn't very good before December. Combine that with the guys just back from injury (Hamhuis, Samuelsson, Malhotra, etc), guys still on the injured list (Kesler, Rome) and the generally short summer, and it doesn't bode well for the Canucks.
On the upside, there are a lot of games against Eastern opponents, which don't matter as much for the standings. And the Canucks could play 0.500 hockey until February and still win the pathetically weak Northwest division, so they don't necessarily have to get off to a quick start.
Also expect at least one Canuck to be suspended for a head hit. Brendan Shanahan has been handing out suspensions like candy to try and curb head-shots, and I wouldn't be surprised if every team has at least one suspension before Christmas.