James Neveau, Managing Editor/Phoenix Coyotes Correspondent
The 2011-12 Phoenix Coyotes exceeded just about every expectation imaginable. They not only remained in Glendale for the season, but they also thrived despite losing goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to free agency, winning their first ever Pacific Division title and winning not one but two playoff series to advance in the playoffs for the first time in their history in the Valley.
After all of that, the team has still had to deal with questions surrounding their impending sale to former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison, as well as questions about whether the league as a whole can avoid a second lockout in the past seven years.
While the lockout is still a very real possibility, all of the pieces seem to be in place for the Coyotes to remain in the desert for the foreseeable future. With that knowledge secure, the attention of fans of the team can finally be turned back on to the on-ice product. The team, who came within three games of a first ever berth in the Stanley Cup Finals, released their 2012-13 schedule on Thursday morning, and a quick perusal shows that there are some interesting matchups on the horizon for this team.
Here are five of the best ones:
October 25th: vs. Nashville Predators
The Coyotes reap the benefits of home ice quite a bit in the early going, and one of the biggest matchups they have will feature a reunion with the team they dispatched in five games in the second round of the playoffs.
Whether the Predators will have a vastly different look remains to be seen, but it seems as though they will no longer have Ryan Suter in the fold, and that could play to Phoenix’s advantage. To counter that, Nashville will almost certainly have revenge on their minds for the whooping the Coyotes laid on them, and it should be an interesting night filled with physicality and great goaltending.
October 30th at Chicago Blackhawks
The Coyotes’ first trip back to Chicago since dispatching the Hawks in six games in April will provide a glimpse into the resolve of the club. The game will be their first after what will certainly be an emotional night against the defending Cup champion LA Kings, and it will also be interesting to see if there is any bad blood left over from the playoffs when Raffi Torres knocked Marian Hossa out of Game 3 with a hit that ended up costing the grinder a 25-game suspension.
Torres will not play in the game, as he will still be serving his suspension, but that probably won’t matter to the guys in the red sweaters looking for a little bit of payback for various offenses committed against them by the Coyotes.
November 30th at New Jersey Devils
Despite winning the Eastern Conference and putting a large scare into the Kings before losing in six games, the Devils are going to be a vastly different team when the Coyotes visit Prudential Center a few days after Thanksgiving. Goaltender Martin Brodeur may or may not be manning the crease for the first time in umpteen years, Zach Parise likely will have departed via free agency, and a new wave of stars led by Adam Henrique will be leading the charge for this team.
It’s always a special night to play a team that was a close challenger for hockey’s Holy Grail, and the Coyotes will be in for a dogfight in this one.
December 26th and 27th vs. Los Angeles Kings
Some NHL teams may be gleefully staring at their presents under the Christmas tree in December, but the Coyotes will not be among them. Instead, they will be left looking in disgust at the two lumps of coal the league has dropped in their stocking: a back-to-back Yuletide showdown with the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
These two teams will meet six times during the season, but there may be no better chance of fireworks than in these two tilts at Staples Center and Jobing.com Arena. Dustin Brown will likely be booed lustily, fans from both sides will likely invade opposing arenas to cause mayhem, and oh yeah, four crucial points in the standings will be on the line. This ought to be a fantastic spectacle, and hockey fans are in for a real treat as the egg nog wears off.
February 11th at Winnipeg Jets
No, it is not the Coyotes’ first foray into the Great White North since they fled for warmer climates in 1996, but it is still a special day when these two teams meet up at MTS Centre. The Jets will be looking to make some serious strides toward the playoffs, and knocking off the former hometown team may do just the trick in terms of propelling them in that direction.