Must-watch NHL games of 2015-16
As the NHL enters its 98th season, there is no shortage of dates to circle on your calendar.
The obvious ones: any time superstar-in-waiting Connor McDavid hits the ice in a big market and the Stanley Cup finalist Tampa Bay Lightning looking for revenge against the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks when they visit the Madhouse on Madison on October 24.
Then there are the personal scoring milestones, which can happen at any point throughout the season. We’ve got a fairly clear idea of approximately when you should keep your eye out for them and that’s part of our month-by-month breakdown below.
Bolstered by a fresh, new crop of stars, and no shortage of up-and-coming teams that are gunning to unseat the Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings as the only Stanley Cup winners since 2012, there’ll be nary a dull moment this season.
But you probably knew that anyway.
• Islanders home opener in Brooklyn: Oct. 9, Barclays Center, Brooklyn. Against the defending champion Blackhawks the young, skilled Isles will try to start creating a tradition of excellence in their new palace as the storied dynasty of the early 80’s did at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Early indications are that the transition to Brooklyn has been a rocky one but we’re eager to see how quickly the Isles can adjust to and make a mark in Brooklyn.
• Mike Babcock returns to Detroit: Oct. 9, Joe Louis Arena. Long a fixture in Hockeytown, Babcock’s $50 million move to Toronto is a big reason why Leafs fans are optimistic about the future. But on Friday night, Babcock will return to face a Red Wings team he very much molded. It will no doubt be an emotional night and he will have to get everything he can out of his Leafs to secure a win against a team that will surely be pumped to tweak its old bench boss.
• Patrick Marleau nets 1000 points: He’s not a guy you would immediately associate with being a 1000-point scorer but he only needs 12 to join the club. Marleau has quietly put together an impressive career in San Jose, never playing less than 74 games in a full season. He put up 12 points in the first month of last season but the 36-year old might need a few extra days to get there this time.
• Connor McDavid visits his hometown: Nov. 30, Air Canada Centre, Toronto. There’s something about the bright lights and Saturday night spotlight that bring out the best in big stars. McDavid, who was born in nearby Newmarket, visits Toronto for the first time since being drafted by the Oilers and he will have many family members and friends in attendance. Grab the popcorn and expect some highlights.
• Dave Tippett wins his 500th game as a coach: In what may be one of the rare bright moments of a tough season in the desert, Dave Tippett enters his 13th campaign as an NHL head coach only 12 wins shy of 500. The Coyotes hit the 12-win mark in December last year, and surely they can’t be much worse than they were last season, can they? Tippett hopes not and he’ll deserve all the praise that’s offered to him when he reaches the milestone.
• Connor McDavid vs. Jack Eichel: Dec. 6, Rexall Place, Edmonton. In the days leading up to the first NHL game featuring superprospects McDavid and Eichel, you can be sure their “rivalry” will be all the two young stars are asked about. And with good reason: The future of the game will be on display this Sunday evening. Here’s hoping they can channel that likely frustration into a little more edge in their game. We’d all be winners then.
• Old rivals Boston and Montreal meet in the Winter Classic: Jan. 1, Gilette Stadium, Foxborough. Fans of both teams have waited long enough to see these two rivals face off under a big sky. No disrespect to the other two outdoor games this season, this is the one to watch. Where both teams will be at this point in the season is a bit of a crapshoot, but it’ll be a spectacle nonetheless.
• Alex Ovechkin nets 500 goals: Based on his scoring habits last season, expect Ovie to hit the 500 goal mark early in the new year. And when it happens, he could become the fifth-fastest player to get there, beating out Isles Hall of Famer Mike Bossy who scored 500 in 803 games. Ovechkin needs 25 in 43 games to do so. We expect him to be something of a man on a mission this season, in search of that first elusive Stanley Cup, so it’s a safe bet he’ll hit that mark right around January.
• NHL All-Star Weekend in Nashville (Jan. 30-31): Watching the NHL’s All-Stars loosen up, let their guard down and have some fun during the draft of the two teams last season was exactly what the league needs: more personality. And where better to let loose than Nashville? With a few days off and a host of events surrounding the All-Star Game on Jan. 31, this should make for some must-see TV.
• Jack Eichel vs. Sidney Crosby on Hockey Day in America: Feb. 21, First Niagara Center, Buffalo. While Jack Eichel and the Sabres figure prominently in NBC’s NHL schedule, this is the one time they get the 12:30 PM slot. Against Crosby, this could very well serve as the beginning of the passing of the torch from the current face of the league to one of its future superstars. The Penguins look to be a lock for a playoff spot but the Sabres could emerge, with a few breaks and some halfway decent defense, as a dark horse wild card contender, which would heighten the excitement for this match-up even more.
• Blackhawks vs. Wild in Stadium Series game: Feb. 21, TCF Bank Stadium. The University of Minnesota’s campus plays host to this battle of Central Division rivals, the State of Hockey’s first outdoor NHL match.
• Avalanche finally get outdoors: Feb. 27, Coors Field, Denver. It seems a bit strange for a team named after, well, snow to have waited this long to play an outdoor game. Colorado’s first will appropriately be against the Red Wings, evoking memories of the bitter rivalry the two teams shared in the late 90’s. It should be fun to see some of the Avalanche’s young guns out in the open air.
Other dates of note
Trade deadline: February 29, 3 p.m. ET.
Final day of the regular season (April 9): All 30 teams will be in action and you can bet playoff berths will be on the line. Senators at Bruins, Red Wings at Rangers, Ducks at Avs, Blackhawks at Blue Jackets, Flames at Wild, Predators at Stars, and Jets at Kings could be imteresting.