When looking at the month ahead, some teams’ schedules are more favorable than others to start the season. Who are prime candidates to get off to a fast start? Chicago Blackhawks
Not only are the ‘Hawks set up for a great season, but October looks like a perfect launching point. Four of their 11 games this month are against playoff teams from last spring, three of which will be played at the United Center. Overall, seven of their 11 games are at home. Joel Quenneville’s bunch will play two home-and-home’s – against Dallas and Colorado. The opportunity is there for Jonathan Toews and company to get off to a quick start.
The schedule makers did the Bruins some favors, more so than last year’s Blackhawks. Boston will play seven of 10 on home-ice and only have one game outside the Eastern Time Zone. They also have zero back-to-back’s, which will help veterans like Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron settle in after a long summer of celebrating. Chicago had a hectic schedule with three back-to-back’s last October. With Boston not having much turnover personnel-wise, a lighter October slate should help them.
Another team without any back-to-back’s is the Capitals. They will only play nine games in the opening month, tied for the fewest in the NHL. Washington will host Carolina, Ottawa and Florida. Tough road games on paper – Philadelphia and Pittsburgh – are places the Capitals have experienced some success in recent years. There are some tough games (Detroit, Vancouver, Tampa Bay), but this is an elite team in their own right. Look for the Caps to start well.
On the other side of the coin, who may stumble out of the gates?
New York Rangers
The Blueshirts have one of the toughest opening schedules you’ll ever see (very reminiscent to Carolina’s October slate last season). John Tortorella and company are participating in the NHL Premiere Series in Sweden this weekend; the team has been in Europe for almost a week now. After returning to North America, they will play a game on Long Island before heading out to Western Canada for four games. Due to renovations at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers won’t play their first home game until Oct. 27. They will travel approximately 16,000 miles before then.
St. Louis Blues
If the Blues wish to get off to a similar start as last year (9-1-2 in first 12 games), they’ll have to do it mostly on the road. Eight of their 11 games are away from Scottrade Center. They will make two separate trips to the west coast in a span of 18 days. Sandwiched in between those trips is a difficult back-to-back against Carolina and Philadelphia. On top of all that, they were a poor road team in 2010-11 (15-20-6).
While some other teams have light schedules to open the season, Pittsburgh’s is anything but. The Pens will only play one game where they have more than one day off beforehand. In the season’s first 13 days, they will play a game in all four time zones. Their first two home games will come against Jose Theodore and the Panthers (Theodore is 19-4-1 career vs. Pittsburgh), and Washington (the Caps have won seven straight in Pittsburgh). Though Sidney Crosby will travel on the team’s first road trip, he will miss the start of the season.
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