NHL 2011-12: 4 Can't-Miss Games This Weekend
Hockey fans rejoice, the 2011-12 NHL regular season is finally upon us.
After a long summer that included some big free agent signings, some surprising trades and the resurrection of the Winnipeg Jets, it's finally time to start watching hockey again.
So, polish up that flat screen TV, make sure the fridge is fully stocked with beverages and start working in your favourite seat, because beginning tonight, NHL action is coming your way.
Over the next few days, there are dozens of exciting matchups. It's unlikely you can catch them all, but here are four games that you should not miss this weekend.
Thursday: Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
What better way kick of the new NHL season than with the League's oldest rivalry?
Although these two Canadian teams aren't exactly top contenders, Leafs-Habs games are always full of passion and excitement.
The Canadiens are looking to bounce back after a heartbreaking first-round playoff exit to the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Boston Bruins. Meanwhile, the Leafs will have their sights set on making the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons.
Although both teams possess a few offensive weapons, the goaltenders should be the focus of this game.
Montreal's Carey Price is coming off a career year and has emerged as one of the game's best netminders. He'll be facing off against James Reimer, the surprise rookie sensation from last year, whose brilliant play has earned him the No. 1 job in Toronto.
Player to Watch: Tim Connolly
The Maple Leafs' biggest acquisition in the offseason, Connolly will be depended on heavily to give Toronto's offence a much needed boost this year.
Friday: New York Rangers vs. Los Angeles Kings
One of the NHL's premier games, this contest will take place in Stockholm, Sweden.
It also features two of the League's biggest offseason acquisitions, as Mike Richards makes his debut for the Los Angeles Kings, while Brad Richards will play his first game for the New York Rangers. In addition, this game marks Drew Doughty's first appearance after signing a new 8-year, $56 million deal.
Both of these squads have made big changes over the summer that they hope will take them from fringe playoff teams to Stanley Cup contenders.
The Rangers just squeezed into the postseason last year, before being ousted by the Washington Capitals; while the Kings will look to improve on their seventh-place finish in the Western Conference last season.
With both teams focused more on offence than defense, this should be an exciting game for the Swedish fans.
Player to Watch: Brad Richards
The summer's hottest free agent commodity, Richards is expected to do big things for the Rangers. Can he live up to the hype, or will he struggle in New York like so many big free agent acquisitions have in the past?
Saturday: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Boston Bruins
The Tampa Bay Lightning finally get their chance at revenge in this rematch of last year's Eastern Conference Finals.
After a hard-fought seven-game series, the Boston Bruins edged out the Lightning to earn a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, and there's sure to still be some bad blood between these two teams. The Stanley Cup champs will be looking to get off to a good start, while the Lightning are anxious to spoil the party.
This game is also not devoid of star talent, as Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Zdneno Chara and Tim Thomas are just some of the names that populate this match.
Look for a heated, high-intensity game, as this may be one of the few matches early in the season that still has a playoff feel to it.
Player to Watch: Steven Stamkos
There's no doubt that the Lightning are now Stamkos' team. If they succeed this year and improve on their last season, it will be largely due to the young star's play.
Sunday: Montreal Canadiens vs. Winnipeg Jets
It's been a long wait for Winnipeg hockey fans, but the Jets have finally come back.
Sunday marks the home opener for the new Jets squad, and the first NHL game in Winnipeg since 1996. Needless to say, the hometown fans will be a lively bunch.
What the Jets lack in skill, they'll more than make up for in energy, as they'll likely be spurred on by the Winnipeg faithful and determined to give the fans their first NHL win in 15 years.
At the same time, the Montreal Canadiens will be more than willing to put a damper on the celebrations as they try to get their season of to a fast start.
Look for this to be a high-energy, emotional game, both for the players and the hockey-deprived Winnipeg fans.
Player to Watch: Andrew Ladd
As the captain of the newest incarnation of the Jets, Ladd is bound to face an enormous amount of pressure, unlike anything he felt in Atlanta. Can he live up to expectations?