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Matchups not to be missed

by Brad Holland

One of the most heated NHL rivalries resumes on October 9, when the Ducks play the Sharks at HP Pavilion.
Sharks-Ducks highlights
With the release of the 2008-09 NHL schedule, a number of games are going to jump out at you: The date Detroit raises their Stanley Cup banner, the NHL Winter Classic 2009, the Hall of Fame Game and the various home openers for each team.

But other games on the schedule have significant importance for other reasons, ranging from long-standing rivalries to “new classics,” like the continuation of the Flyers-Capitals feud that began with last year’s first-round playoff series – one of the most entertaining and emotional of the entire playoffs.

In addition, the movement of some key players gives rise to a little more attention paid to certain games, and while the players – on each team – will tell you “it’s only one of 82,” when watching those games one might note the players are playing with a little extra pride, a little extra jump, a little extra fear of losing, meaning we as viewers are treated to just a little extra “old time hockey.”

The following are 10 games not to miss, and while it’s not a complete list, it will be a good jumping-off point for discussions on the rest of the marquee matchups in 2008-09.

1. October 9, 2008: Anaheim at San Jose – Two of the top teams in the Western Conference, and one of the most heated rivalries in the NHL. Newcomers Dan Boyle for San Jose and Brendan Morrison of the Anaheim Ducks will get their first taste of the rivalry, while new San Jose bench boss Todd McLellan will coach his first NHL game.

2. October 11, 2008: Carolina at Tampa Bay – The Lightning will play two games in Prague, Czech Republic, prior to this intra-divisional matchup, but this will be the first time the Lightning faithful will have the chance to see new Lightning members Ryan Malone, Radim Vrbata, Adam Hall, Gary Roberts, Matt Carle and Steven Stamkos in person. It also will be the first time the home crowd gets a taste of new coach Barry Melrose.

3. October 16, 2008: Washington at Pittsburgh – Call me crazy, but I can’t get enough of this matchup. There’s so many reasons, and not just Ovechkin vs. Crosby. What about the two Russian superstars, No. 1 and No. 2 in scoring, respectively, in the 2007-08 scoring race, Ovechkin and Malkin? With Washington’s Southeast Division title and the Pittsburgh’s trip to the Stanley Cup Final, each seems poised to continue its development into the League’s elite in 2008-09. The first meeting between these team may not be the best, or even have the most impact during the season series, but it is the first chance in a long time for fans of the NHL to watch the last two Hart Trophy winners on the same ice surface.

4. October 17-18, 2008: Calgary at Edmonton – The Battle of Alberta resumes with a home-and-home matchup in the season’s first 10 days, with each team looking slightly different than the 2007-08 incarnation, and each looking to make more noise in the Western Conference than last season. The Oilers narrowly missed the playoffs while the Flames took the Sharks to seven games in the first round, but neither team – nor the city each represents – was satisfied. The big guns will be looking to make early-season statements as soon as possible. It’s always an explosive meeting when you mix Flames with Oilers.

Sean Avery returns to MSG on October 20, to face the Rangers.
5. October 20, 2008: Dallas at New York Rangers – Super-pest Sean Avery makes his return to Madison Square Garden, where he enjoyed so much success as a member of the Rangers during the past year and a half. Things are different now, as Avery’s Star burns in Dallas and the Rangers are quite a bit different, but home crowds have long memories and it will be interesting to see how Avery is received by the New York faithful, especially if he brings – and you know he will – his fire back to the Garden with him.

6. October 22, 2008: Florida at Ottawa – When the Panthers and the Senators went looking for coaches this summer, they both went to the same well – the Ontario Hockey League, where the Panthers grabbed former Kitchener Rangers coach Peter DeBoer and the Senators hired ex-Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds coach Craig Hartsburg. They met in the OHL’s Western Conference final, with DeBoer and the Rangers emerging victorious in five games before going on to defeat the Belleville Bulls in seven games in the OHL final.

7. November 11, 2008: Pittsburgh at Detroit –  The 2008 Stanley Cup finalists will face off for the first time since the Red Wings paraded the Cup around Mellon Arena in the final game of the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It also marks the first time Marian Hossa will face his former teammates since leaving Pittsburgh to sign in Detroit.

8. November 13, 2008: Montreal at Boston – Even if the years of history, the Original Six angle, and one of the most storied, thrilling and – at times – bloody rivalries in the game doesn’t thrill you, there is still the fact that these teams just plain don’t like one another. The teams played an emotional seven-game first-round playoff series in April, and since then, Michael Ryder has left Montreal for Boston, while the Canadiens added physicality and toughness in Georges Laraque.

The Flyers visit AO and the Capitals on January 6, 2009.
9. January 6, 2009: Philadelphia at Washington – When last season’s playoff seeds were finalized, many pointed to the first-round matchup of Washington and Philadelphia as one with the most potential for offense, and neither team disappointed. The series was without a doubt one of the most exciting of the entire 2008 playoffs, and these teams developed a healthy dislike for one another. This rivalry has all the makings of one of the NHL’s best.

10. January 19, 2008: Dallas at Tampa Bay – When the Lightning traded superstar center Brad Richards to the Stars, it signified a change of direction for Tampa and a new, aggressive commitment by Dallas to remain among the League’s best. This will be the first return of Richards to Tampa Bay, where he may not recognize many of the current players, but he will recognize the crowd – and they him. How he is received may depend on his performance, but he’ll always be remembered for his major role in the Lightning’s 2004 Stanley Cup victory.

Contact Brad Holland at bholland@nhl.com.
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