It is less than a week into the NHL’s regular season, and the league is ensuring that it starts out the 2014-2015 season with a bang. All 30 teams will be on the ice in a 15-game Saturday night, only the 6th time in league history that such an event has occurred. Hockey fans the world over have waited patiently as the offseason seemed to drag on and on, but hockey has finally returned, and there will be no shortage of great games to watch tonight. With so many games available, it will be difficult to choose which ones to watch. Here are just some storylines going into tonight’s embarrassment of hockey riches.
Pittsburgh Penguins (1-0-0) at Toronto Maple Leafs (0-1-0) – The main game tonight will be featured on both Hockey Night in Canada and the NHL Network. Pittsburgh opened their season with a 6-4 win over the Anaheim Ducks, with captain Sidney Crosby registering two goals and an assist in the victory. The Maple Leafs lost their season-opener, 4-3, after a last minute goal by Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec. Both teams need to shake off the rust that was apparent in their first games, especially on the defensive side of the ice.
New York Rangers (1-0-0) at Columbus Blue Jackets (1-0-0) – The Metropolitan divisional matchup will feature two teams that have quite a history with each other. Both rosters feature players that have long history with the opposing team. New York’s Rick Nash and Derik Brassard spent much of their career in Columbus, while the Blue Jackets’ Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky could say the same about their time with the Rangers. Even early in this NHL season, injuries have hit both teams hard, as the Rangers will be without defensemen Dan Boyle for 4-6 weeks due to a broken hand, while the Blue Jackets will once again start the season without the services of Nathan Horton.
Carolina Hurricanes (0-1-0) at New York Islanders (1-0-0) – The back end of a home-and-home series for the two teams. The Islanders earned a 5-3 victory last night in Raleigh, thanks in large part to the play of newly acquired defensemen Johnny Boychuk. Boychuk opened the scoring for New York, and added two assists as the night went on. Carolina will be starting goaltender Anton Khudobin in net, who was among the NHL’s best goaltenders last season.
Minnesota Wild (1-0-0) at Colorado Avalanche (0-1-0) – Another home-and-home series, which saw the Wild stomp last year’s Central Division winners, 5-0, in a game that the Avalanche would rather just forget. In a span of 13 minutes in the second period, Minnesota scored four times, taking a close 1-0 game and turning it into a laugher. Minnesota forward Zach Parise knows that not all games in the NHL will work out that way. “I think it was a combination of us playing pretty well and them not playing very well, and I think they’d probably say that too,” Parise said. “We know that’s a much better team than what they showed [Thursday].”
Los Angeles Kings (0-1-0) at Phoenix Coyotes (0-1-0) – For the NHL fans on the West Coast, the Kings will attempt to get their hopes of a Stanley Cup repeat back on track after losing their season opener. Both teams suffered embarrassing losses in their first game; Los Angeles losing 4-0 to the San Jose Sharks and Phoenix losing 6-2 to the Winnipeg Jets. Though the Kings may be the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Coyotes have had their number of late, winning three out of the four games last year.
It is a rare event to have all 30 teams playing on the same night. The amount of planning and scheduling with the various venues around the league has tonight only the sixth time it has happened in league history. However, for those hockey fans who may be missing tonight’s historic event, fear not. The NHL will end the season on April 11, 2015, where once again, all 30 teams will hit the ice to close out the 2014-2015 regular season.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner