Working Out the Kinks
Players have skated in training camps for two weeks (and in small groups for some weeks before that). They participated in drills and scrimmaged against teammates. Tuesday through Thursday this week is final stage of getting in game shape for what is-boom, ready or not-the NHL postseason starting Saturday.
Here is the exhibition game schedule for teams playing in the Qualifying Round and round-robin top seeds tournament Aug. 1 to 9. All Eastern Conference games will be played at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto; all Western Conference games will be played at Rogers Place in Edmonton. Fans can purchase an all-access NHL.TV pass for $4.99 to watch the exhibition games and first five days of Qualifying Round and round-robin play.
(All times Pacific; home team listed second; NHLN = NHL Network; NHLSN = NBC Sports Network)
Tuesday, July 28
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
NBCSN, NHL.TV, NBCSP+
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens
Edmonton Oilers vs. Calgary Flames
Wednesday, July 29
Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers
Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild
Carolina Hurricanes vs. Washington Capitals
NBCSN, NHL.TV, FS-CR
St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks
NBCSN (joined in progress), NHLN, NHL.TV
New York Islanders vs. New York Rangers
NBCSN, MSG, MSG+
Vancouver Canucks vs. Winnipeg Jets
Thursday, July 30
Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars
Boston Bruins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Arizona Coyotes
Entering the Zone
NHL.com columnist Nick Cotsonika is reporting from inside Toronto's "bubble" or protected zone. Toronto is the hub city hosting the 12 Eastern Conference teams in postseason play. He described the Montreal Canadiens arrival as the first NHL team entering the bubble (ironic fact: Montreal was the 12th and final team to statistically qualify for Eastern postseason play): "The first team entered the Secure Zone at 7:49 a.m. Pacific Sunday, when a guard opened a gate in the black fence surrounding the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto. Not one but two buses carried the Montreal Canadiens because of the space needed for social distancing.
"Everyone wore a mask as the Canadiens collected luggage and walked into the hotel. They passed red velvet ropes cordoning off CLEAR kiosks, which, in addition to daily COVID-19 tests, everyone must use to receive health passes to move within the bubble by answering questions on an app and undergoing touchless temperature checks.
"Preregistered, the Canadiens received room keys and welcome packets containing a Toronto hub city guide and a medical guidebook. Then they headed to the elevators, into which staff members ushered no more than two per car for social distancing. In 12 minutes, the entire team was on its floor."
NHL.com's Cotsonika checked in the Dean Matsuzaki, NHL executive vice president of events, who is supervising the Toronto hub about what players will experience while moving about the protected bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton: "They're all coming from different markets with different levels of COVID measures. But when they get here, I think they'll be surprised to see everybody -- all hotel staff, all NHL staff, everybody -- wearing face protection."
"For the whole event, we're all focused on social distancing and keeping everybody safe," Matsuzaki said. "But in particular, from the medical group and the Phase 4 protocol, the first five days teams must stick to their own cohort group, if you will. We don't want any mixing of teams with other teams or with even our staff, just to keep everybody as safe and isolated as possible to reduce risk of any kind of spreads."
What's Coming for Viewers
Since no fans will be on hand in the arenas to watch games, the NHL is adding 12 additional camera setups in both Toronto and Edmonton, including a 360-degree crane camera or JitaCam that will positioned in a premium center-ice spot. The potential for watching hockey in ways we've never seen is high with the added possibility this summer's broadcasts will become a change agent for future years of presenting the game to fans on screens.
Greg Wyshynski of ESPN is covering the Western Conference Qualifying Round and round-robin top seeds tournament in Edmonton. He caught up with Steve Mayer, the NHL's chief content officer and senior executive VP of events and entertainment, who explained there will be constructed stages, giant LED screens behind player benches, pumped in crowd noise and home-team presentation elements, unique lighting, empty seats covered with team names and NHL logos and more: "We're never going to have this kind of creative freedom. Without fans, it makes it different. Whether that's good or bad, it just changes the way you do things."
"In the past, all the cameras had to be in specific places because of the way the arena was build. Now, all rules are off. [The cameras] are going to be in unique positions. We're going to show angles that have never been shown before. The [JitaCam] is going to feel like a drone, but there was no way we were going to be able to fly a drone over the ice during a game. It was absolutely talked about, but we could never get clearance for that. The JitaCam, with its arm, can kind of feel like a drone."
Weekend Puck Drops
Saturday and Sunday will be busy days in Toronto and Edmonton with puck drops for the Qualifying Round (best-of-five series, winner moves on the traditional round of 16 for the Stanley Cup Playoffs) and round-robin tournament (to determine top 4 seeds positioning). On Saturday, Toronto hosts a tripleheader while Edmonton puts on two games. Sunday reverses the game load with two more opening games in Toronto and three in Edmonton. It all starts at 9 a.m. Saturday for west coast hockey fans when the New York Rangers face the Carolina Panthers in a Qualifier series.
The NHL, Twitter and Disney Streaming Services announced a partnership Tuesday that will provide two-minute live look-ins to select games during the Qualifying Round and Stanley Cup Playoffs in the U.S. for the first time. Fans will be able to vote on Twitter's polling feature to elect which games will feature live look-ins. Two game days each week will receive the special treatment and those highlighted games will be announced in the mornings.
During the 2020 Qualifying Round and first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Twitter will stream the first two minutes of the first period and the first two minutes of the third period for the select Live Look-In games. During Round 2, the Stanley Cup Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Final, Twitter will stream the first two minutes of the first period and the last two minutes of the third period of the select Live Look-In games.
Back to this weekend, here is the schedule with times (Pacific) and TV info:
Saturday, Aug. 1
New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Game 1, 9 a.m.
Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders
Game 1, 1 p.m.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Game 1, 5 p.m.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers
Game 1, 12 noon
Winnipeg Jets vs. Calgary Flames
Game 1, 7:30 p.m.
NBCSN, NHL.TV, CBC
Sunday, Aug. 2
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Boston Bruins
NBC, SN, TVAS
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Game 1, 5 p.m.
NHLN, SN, TVAS, FS-O
Arizona Coyotes vs, Nashville Predators
Game 1, 11 a.m.
USA, NHL.TV, SN360, FS-TN, FS-A
St. Louis Blues vs. Colorado Avalanche
NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS2, FS-MW
Minnesota Wild vs. Vancouver Canucks
Game 1, 7:30 p.m.
NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, FS-N, FS-WI