Re-Invigorated Rivalries Top Must-Watch NHL Games this Season

With the NHL schedule set to kick off Wednesday, there will be countless viewing options for fans over the next seven months or so.

Certain games, however, should be circled on calendars.

Some of the NHL’s traditional rivalries will get an extra boost this year, thanks to a flurry of off-season moves that saw players jump from one side to another. Other battles will get a little extra oomph as clubs look for revenge.

Here’s a look at some of the games hockey lovers won’t want to miss.

A Busy October

CAPITALS AT BLUES, WEDNESDAY: Last year’s Stanley Cup winners will hoist the franchise’s first-ever championship banner to the rafters when St. Louis hosts Washington on opening night. The Blues could be poised to make another run this season, considering they didn’t have a lot of turnover this summer and recently added three-time all-star defenceman Justin Faulk to the lineup. Meanwhile, the Capitals will be looking to start the year with a bang after the perennial playoff favourites were ousted in the first round by the Carolina Hurricanes in April.

SENATORS AT MAPLE LEAFS, WEDNESDAY: New Ottawa coach D.J. Smith will head back to his former home in Toronto to kick off the season. The former Leafs assistant isn’t alone in swapping sides in the Ontario rivalry over the summer. Cody Ceci signed with Toronto in free agency and former Sens captain Jason Spezza joins the Leafs after spending five seasons in Dallas. Ottawa has also picked up several faces familiar to Toronto fans, including Ron Hainsey, Nikita Zaitsev, Tyler Ennis and Connor Brown.

Cody Ceci
Cody Ceci (photo: Amy Irvin)

JETS AT DEVILS, FRIDAY: Jack Hughes, picked No. 1 overall by New Jersey at this year’s draft, will make his NHL debut when the Devils host the Winnipeg Jets. The 18-year-old centre has already impressed in pre-season play, scoring a number of highlight-reel goals. Last season, Hughes had an eye-popping 48 points in 24 games with the U.S. National Team Development Program.

RANGERS AT DEVILS, OCT. 17: Hughes has said he knows his name will long be linked with Kaapo Kakko, the Finnish right-winger taken second overall by the New York Rangers at the draft in June. The pair will face each other for the first time when the Rangers visit New Jersey in what’s sure to be a battle between two early picks for rookie of the year.

CANUCKS AT DEVILS, OCT. 19: Hughes will face another rookie in an eagerly anticipated matchup when Vancouver comes to New Jersey — his older brother Quinn. The elder Hughes impressed Vancouver fans with his speed and play-making abilities in the five games he played for the Canucks last season. Now many are salivating at the chance to see the brothers face off in NHL action.

BLUES AT BOSTON, OCT. 26: The Blues will visit Boston, marking the first rematch between last season’s Stanley Cup finalists. While St. Louis eventually captured the championship, the series went a full seven games and featured some feisty play. The Bruins will be looking for revenge.

JETS VS. FLAMES AT REGINA, OCT. 26: As football season winds down on the Prairies, sports lovers in Regina will get a rare opportunity to watch a live NHL game. The Jets and Flames will face off at Mosaic Stadium — home of the Saskatchewan Roughriders — in the Heritage Classic, the league’s first outdoor game of the season.

December and More

DEVILS AT PREDATORS, DEC. 7: P.K. Subban will return to Nashville wearing a new jersey. Nashville dealt the Toronto-born defenceman to the Devils in June in a bid to free up salary cap space. Subban is coming off his worst season since his rookie year, but playing with the likes of Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier is likely to boost his point total this year.

P.K. Subban New Jersey Devils
P.K. Subban, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

FLAMES AT OILERS, DEC. 27: This season’s first battle of Alberta takes place in Edmonton and is sure to bring some fireworks. Former Flames James Neal and Mike Smith now dress in Edmonton blue and orange, while ex-Oilers Milan Lucic and Cam Talbot now play in Calgary. The holiday-week contest will be the first of five times the two sides will face off this season — and four of those meetings will happen by the beginning of February.

PREDATORS AT STARS, JAN. 1: A New Year’s Day tradition, this year’s Winter Classic will see the Preds take on the Stars in an outdoor game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Both teams are playing in what’s expected to be an ultra-competitive Central Division, so the game could both entertain and impact the standings.

PANTHERS AT BLACKHAWKS, JAN. 21: New Florida coach Joel Quenneville returns to Chicago for the first time since the ‘Hawks fired him last November. Heading back to the Windy City is sure to be emotional for the legendary bench boss. As the Blackhawks coach, Quenneville amassed more than 400 wins and raised the Stanley Cup three times.

RANGERS AT JETS, FEB. 11: Jacob Trouba returns to Winnipeg for the first time with the Rangers. The defenceman spent the first six years of his NHL career with the Jets before he was dealt to New York in June. Trouba then signed a seven-year deal worth US$56 million with the Rangers, where he’s expected to line up with Brady Skjei as the first defensive pair.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2019.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press