The new NHL season gets underway in earnest Thursday with eight games; 15 of the 16 teams will be playing for the first time in 2013-14.
As John Tortorella and Alain Vigneault were at the start of the 2012-13 season, they will be behind an NHL bench; however, it won't be with the same team they were running last season. Tortorella, who coached the New York Rangers, will make his debut as coach of the Vancouver Canucks when they visit the San Jose Sharks. Vigneault, who was fired by the Canucks after a first-round sweep by San Jose and is now running the Rangers, will coach his first game with New York when the Rangers begin a season-opening nine-game road trip against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena.
Here's a quick look at Thursday's action:
New Jersey Devils at Pittsburgh Penguins -- For the first time since 1993, Martin Brodeur won't be in goal for New Jersey in its season opener. Coach Peter DeBoer announced Wednesday that newcomer Cory Schneider will start, with Brodeur likely to start at home Friday against the New York Islanders. Brodeur has missed practice time following the death of his father last week. The Penguins are counting on a return to form from goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury after his struggles during the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring; they need him to be at his best because they'll be without veteran backup Tomas Vokoun for at least three months after undergoing surgery to dissolve a blood clot. Rookie Jeff Zatkoff will be the backup for now.
Tampa Bay Lightning at Boston Bruins -- Martin St. Louis makes his debut as Tampa Bay captain when the Lightning begin their season with the first half of a tough daily double; their first two games are on the road against the teams that met in the Stanley Cup Final. The Boston Bruins, who lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games, looked sharp while winning six of seven games in the preseason. They have most of last season's cast back; their one key addition was Jarome Iginla, who signed with Boston as a free agent.
Calgary Flames at Washington Capitals -- The rebuilding Flames open their season in Washington, where they've been since Tuesday to give the team some bonding time. Karri Ramo, designated this week as the starting goaltender, figures to get a tough test from the high-scoring Capitals. Washington returns for its home opener after a 6-4 loss to the Blackhawks. Newcomer Mikhail Grabovski had three goals and an assist in his first game with the Capitals, the first player to get a hat trick on opening night in his first game with his new team since Chris Kontos scored four times for the Lightning in their NHL debut in 1992.
Los Angeles Kings at Minnesota Wild -- The Kings start their season with a tough back-to-back; they go from St. Paul to visit the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night. L.A. captain Dustin Brown, who missed most of the preseason with a hamstring injury, said he's ready to go; if he plays, he's likely to receive plenty of boos for a late-season hit on Jason Pominville that kept the Minnesota forward out of action for five games (and earned Brown a two-game suspension). The Wild are trying to continue their unbeaten streak in home openers; they're 11-0-1 in their first game of the season at Xcel Energy Center, with 11 wins in a row.
Florida Panthers at Dallas Stars -- Tim Thomas will play in an NHL game for the first time since April 2012 when he leads the Panthers onto the ice at American Airlines Center. He won't be the only thirty-something in Florida's lineup; the Panthers have added veterans Tom Gilbert, Brad Boyes and Ryan Whitney to try to take some of the pressure off their youngsters. The new-look Stars will play their first game under new coach Lindy Ruff and with new general manager Jim Nill watching; they'll also be sporting a new logo and uniforms as they begin the task of trying to end a playoff drought that dates to 2008.
Nashville Predators at St. Louis Blues -- Nashville will have eight players in the lineup who weren't with the team at the end of last season. Perhaps the most important of that octet is defenseman Seth Jones, the fourth player taken in the NHL Draft in June. Among the other newcomers are veteran forwards Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom and Matt Hendricks. St. Louis, expected to be a Stanley Cup contender, opens its season with a five-game homestand and with all its players in good physical health. The only one missing could be forward Brenden Morrow, who was signed during training camp but has yet to receive his work visa. Offseason acquisition Magnus Paajarvi is likely to fill Morrow's spot.
New York Rangers at Phoenix Coyotes -- The Rangers spent the last week of the preseason out west, went home for a couple of days and flew to Phoenix for the first game of a season-opening nine-game trip while the remodeling of Madison Square Garden is completed. They won once in the preseason while getting used to Vigneault's system, but they will have center Derek Stepan in the lineup for the first time after the restricted free agent signed a new contract last week. Phoenix begins its first season under a new ownership group led by George Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc; the Coyotes are counting on free-agent signee Mike Ribeiro to boost an offense that struggled last season.
Vancouver Canucks at San Jose Sharks -- It didn't count in the standings, but you can bet the Canucks will remember their 5-0 preseason wipeout in San Jose last week, one of four losses in six preseason games under Tortorella. Roberto Luongo is the unquestioned No. 1 goaltender after backing up since-traded Cory Schneider last season. San Jose starts its season with three consecutive home games after making few offseason changes to a team that finished strong and made it to Game 7 of the second round against the Los Angeles Kings.
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