Detroit Red Wings Schedule 2011-12 : Picking 1 Can't-Miss Game Per Month

Franklin Steele@FranklinSteeleAnalyst IIJune 25, 2011

Detroit Red Wings Schedule 2011-12 : Picking 1 Can't-Miss Game Per Month

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    The Detroit Red Wings 2011-12 schedule is on the books.

    The NHL released full schedules for all 30 teams in the League ahead of the usual July release date.  While I think they may actually be trying to kill hockey writers by overloading them with information—first the awards show, then the schedules and then the draft, followed closely by free agency—it does give us fans something to look forward to for next season.

    Looking at the list of games for the 2011-12 version of the Detroit Red Wings, there are several games that strike me as interesting matchups for our boys in Red and White for various reasons. 

    While there is the usual stock of games against Central division opponents several dates stick out, and are interesting games for one reason or another.

    The NHL regular season extends across seven months, so here are seven Red Wings games that you can't afford to miss—one for each month.

    (The full schedule can be found here, along with details about particular promotions and whatnot.)

vs. San Jose Sharks, October 28

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    The last time these two teams met San Jose was knocking Detroit out of the playoffs for the second straight year.  This early season matchup won't be enough to rid the Red Wings of their desire to avenge these two playoff round losses, but it'll be a start.

    Because by that point the Wings will have had plenty of time to stew over the losses, and will be looking to take a welcome "W" over their rivals in California.

    This won't be the same squad that San Jose last played against either.

    Brian Rafalski is gone, and the Wings will have a whole new look on defense—that may be a good or a bad thing, and by this time in the season (eight games in) we'll have a better idea of what to expect out of the new players on the Wings.

    I give this game the nod over the home opener against Ottawa because it doesn't have the words "banner raising ceremony" to go along with it—at least not the kind of banner the Wing's players and fans want to see.

    This will be a good early seen test to see where the new-look Wings stand moving forward.

vs. Boston Bruins, November 25

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    By late November the Boston Bruins will probably be used to the whole "target on the back" side of being Stanley Cup champions.  The 81 games a team plays after they raise their banner can be a long, hard road back to the Finals.

    Expect the Red Wings to bring their A-game against the Bruins in Boston in some kind of odd 1 p.m. matinee on a Friday—Lady Gaga must be in town that night or something.

    This is another late month test for Detroit to see where they are at, and after a six-game home stand to begin the month the Wings will have to hit the road for five of their next six, culminating with a game in the rough and tumble TD Garden.

    You know Bruins fans will be jacked to play one of the top teams from the other conference, but the early start time may take a bit of an edge off of what could have been an early season game with more of a playoff atmosphere.

vs. Winnipeg Jets, December 10

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    The last time these two teams met it was 1996.

    Some Red Wings fans may have forgotten the contest that took place on April 28 of that year, but for Jets fans that was the last game their hometown team played before being uprooted and moved to Phoenix.

    Detroit sealed a 4-2 playoff series win with a 4-1 victory at Winnipeg Jets Arena. And now 15 years later the two teams meet again.

    I doubt that this will serve of much motivation for the new Jets, and the Red Wings have seen almost all of that 1996 team turnover.  But the two squads will get familiar once again a few months into the season, and the storyline behind the matchup is an interesting one.

    It will be the only time that the two squads will play each other in the 2011-12 regular season, taking place at the Joe which, to me, takes some of the intrigue out of the game.  Still though, the little piece of history between the two teams stands out over playing Nashville for the 106th time before the All-Star break.

    Honorable mention to the Pittsburgh Penguins game on December 13.  It's always fun when these two teams meet up, and I doubt that this game will be different in that regard.

vs. New York Islanders, January 10

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    This game is a bit of a toss-up.  By this point, I believe two things will have happened.

    Either the New York Islanders will be fighting tooth and nail to stay in the playoff hunt, lead by an elite group of young and exciting prospects.  Or the Islanders will be the darlings of the NHL, much like the Colorado Avalanche a few years ago, due to that elite group of prospects, as they soar to heights that few predicted.

    There is little doubt that the Isles are on the way up.  Kyle Okposo, John Tavares, Josh Bailey, Michael Grabner and Travis Hamonic are all electric players in their own rights, and none of them are over 23.  That's a lot of youthful exuberance, and playing against one of the old guards in the League may prove motivation for the kids to really come out and play.

    This is an away game for the Wings, and it'll be interesting to see if the local Islanders fans show up to out-chant the local Detroit fans.

vs. Philadelphia Flyers, February 12

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    Both of these teams will look different than they did the last time that they squared off.  The Flyers dealt away Mike Richards and Jeff Carter during the offseason and by this point the deals will look like masterful strokes or they'll be calling for heads to roll in Philly.

    Sean Couturier could very well still be in the NHL at this point, and this will be his first trip to the Joe.

    While the matchup could be a game against one of the better teams in the East, it could also be against a mediocre squad that just happens to be visiting in the middle of a six-game home stand.

    If it's the former, then this will be a hotly contested game with a playoff like atmosphere in both locker rooms.  The Flyers and Wings will both be motivated to take a game against a good opponent that they only play once this year.

    And it's always nice to have that yearly reminder of what Ville Leino could have been, and how badly the Red Wings lost that trade.  It doesn't happen that often for Detroit—to misjudge talent and progression.  But they did just that in this case.

    The Wings also play the Flyers again in March, in Philadelphia.

vs. Washington Capitals, March 19

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    Love him or hate him, it's always noteworthy when Alexander Ovechkin comes to town.  The chance to see one of the most electric offensive talents in the League while they are in their prime is a chance Detroit fans recognize, and they will be out in full force for this Monday night game.

    Beyond the interest in AO, the Caps are usually one of the top squads in the East during the regular season and there's no indication that it will be any different in 2011-12.  The team is adding sandpaper to their wings, and could be a very fast, in your face team as things come together.

    With only nine games left to play after this contest, this will be a big test for both teams heading into the home stretch for the playoffs.  Play will most likely be a bit sharper from both teams on this night as they try to get a feel for how they are competing against the top clubs in the League.

vs. New Jersey Devils, April 5

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    This game being a noteworthy one is contingent on a few different things here, but if they all come together this could be a game to remember for a long time.

    First, Adam Larsson has to make the New Jersey Devils, and stick with them to this point.  If he is hurt or getting scratched then it's a null point as well.  Larsson will then need to make something out of his career and prove people correct in saying that he could be the next Nicklas Lidstrom.

    And secondly, Lidstrom would have to retire at the end of the season.  The general notion is that this could be No. 5's last season as a professional hockey player, and a Detroit Red Wing.

    If—and only if—these conditions are met will this game be a standout in the future.

    Larsson idolized Lidstrom growing up as a kid, and modeled his game after the long time Red Wing.  If Larsson lives up to his billing, this could be the only time the two Swedish defenders end up playing against one another.

    There is something kind of cool and poetic about that, and for that I give this game the nod over the (apparently) traditional season closing game against the Blackhawks.