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2011-12: Ten To Watch

by John Kopp / Philadelphia Flyers
One glance at the Flyers’ first opponent is all that is needed to realize Thursday’s game isn’t any ordinary Opening Night.

When the puck drops shortly after 7 p.m., the Flyers will be on ice against the Boston Bruins, the very team that swept them out of the postseason last May. The Bruins, of course, went on to win the Stanley Cup.

Much has changed since
Bryzgalov was the Flyers' first big signing of the 2011 Off-Season.
last spring. The Flyers have retooled, bringing in goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to anchor their vaunted defense. Jaromir Jagr is the most prominent newcomer on an offense that also added young forwards Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Jakub Voracek.

Those players weren’t around when the Flyers and Bruins last met, but there are plenty of holdovers who remember the toils of a playoff series that didn’t go the Flyers’ way.

A single Flyers’ win won’t undue the pains of last spring, but there’s not a more exciting way for the Flyers to start the season. 

Here are 10 other games you will want to watch:

Oct. 15, vs. Los Angeles: There will be plenty of hype surrounding this game as Mike Richards makes his anticipated return to the Wells Fargo Center just four games into the season. Overshadowed by Richard’s return, however, is a talented Kings team that could still be playing deep into the postseason. Boasting a stingy defense and a solid goaltender in Jonathan Quick, the Kings also feature former Flyer Simon Gagne.

Oct. 27, vs. Winnipeg: The Jets return to Philadelphia for the first time since 1996 when their lineup included a young Teemu Selanne and a younger Keith Tkachuk. The Atlanta Thrashers’ relocation returned the NHL to hockey-crazed Winnipeg, but the Jets will play the season as a member of the Southeast Division. Thus, the Flyers will play them four times this year, but with the Jets likely to join the Western Conference, future meetings will be rarer.

Nov. 5, vs. Columbus: The Flyers play the Blue Jackets just once this year, but many fans at the Wells Fargo Center will be more interested in seeing Jeff Carter return to Philly. The sharpshooter scored 181 goals during his tenure with the Flyers, which, like Richards, ended with an offseason trade. By joining Carter with winger Rick Nash, Columbus dresses two of the game’s most potent goal scorers.

Dec. 17, vs. Boston: The Flyers play just three home games in December. This one, against the reigning champs, is sandwiched between seven road contests. The Flyers couldn’t figure out the Bruins last season, losing three of four during the regular season and later getting swept from the playoffs. With Tim Thomas and Ilya Bryzgalov minding the nets, goals could be precious commodities when the teams meet this season.

The 2012 Winter Classic will be played at Citizens Bank Park.
Jan. 2, vs. New York Rangers: The penalty box replaces the batters’ box as the Flyers and Rangers meet in the Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park. They Flyers will appear in their second Winter Classic appearance, having lost to Boston two years ago. The Rangers will make their debut.

The outdoor game could include the next historic moment in the teams’ storied rivalry. Leading up to the event, that rivalry will be featured as part of the HBO series 24/7.

Jan. 5, vs. Chicago: Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks return to Philadelphia for the first time since Kane dashed the Flyers’ title aspirations with an overtime goal that clinched the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals. In Kane and Jonathan Toews, the Blackhawks have two, young forwards who lead an explosive offense. The Flyers got the best of them last year in Chicago, winning 4-1.

Feb. 12 @ Detroit: The Flyers embark to Joe Louis Arena to play the perennially-difficult Red Wings. Last year, the Flyers beat the Wings at home for the first time since 1988, a 22-year span that included 16 winless games. With the Flyers playing a rivalry game against the Rangers a day ahead of time, topping the Wings could be more challenging. Later in the season, the Red Wings will visit the Wells Fargo Center.

March 4, @ Washington: Was there anything more exciting than the Flyers’ four games against the Capitals last season? All four games went beyond regulation, with two ending in shootouts. After splitting last year’s series, expect this one again to bring plenty of drama. This nationally-televised game also kicks off the home stretch for the Flyers, in which they only have back-to-back days off once.

March 13 vs. New Jersey: With the aging Martin Brodeur entering the final year of his contract, this could be the future Hall of Fame goaltender’s last game in Philadelphia if he opts for retirement after the season. The Flyers beat him in all four games he played against them last year, one in which the 40-year-old battled an injury. Plotlines aside, this game also completes a home-and-home series with the Devils that comes in the middle of the stretch run.

April 1, @ Pittsburgh: The Flyers begin the final week of their season with a nationally-televised date against their one of their fiercest rivals, whom they see three times within the season’s last three weeks. The final four games won’t be easy, either. After playing the Penguins, they’ll return home for games against the Rangers and Sabres before heading back to Pittsburgh for the season finale. It could be a dramatic final week within in the Atlantic Division.

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