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Highlights and key dates from the newly announced 2011-12 NHL schedule

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It’s time to start planning your road trips and anticipating your “sick days” because the NHL released all 30 team’s schedules for the 2011-12 season today.

Thursday, October 6 will mark the opening day of the season. It will involve three games: the Boston Bruins will raise their Stanley Cup banner against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Montreal Canadiens will visit the Maple Leafs in Toronto and the Pittsburgh Penguins will play a road game against the Vancouver Canucks. The following Friday will feature those overseas games known as the NHL Premiere Games (this year’s teams include the New York Rangers, Buffalo Sabres, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks).

Winnipeg fans will finally see their 15-year drought of NHL hockey end on Sunday, October 9 against the Canadiens. (Want to find out if Winnipeg has a strange schedule because they’re staying in the Southeast Division? Click here to peruse their schedule. You can also take a look at individual team schedules by clicking here.)

Here are some highlights of the new schedule, via NHL.com. PHT will provide more information and analysis in future posts.

Season-Opening Night
Thursday, October 6 – Flyers @ Bruins, Habs @ Leafs, Pens @ Canucks

Compuware NHL Premiere Games (Stockholm, Helsinki and Berlin)
Friday, Oct. 7 and Saturday Oct. 8
* Games will feature Rangers, Sabres, Kings and Ducks

Meeting of the past two Stanley Cup champions
Boston @ Chicago — Saturday, Oct. 15

Hall of Fame Game
Boston @ Toronto, Saturday, Nov. 5

All-Star Break
Jan. 26-30

Meeting of 2011 Stanley Cup Finalists
Vancouver @ Boston – Saturday, Jan. 7

Busiest Day
Saturday, April 7 — 15 games

Regular Season Concludes

April 7, 2012

Want to know when your team will hold its home opener? Look no further than this list.

ANAHEIM – Friday, Oct. 14, San Jose
BOSTON – Thursday, Oct. 6, Philadelphia
BUFFALO – Friday, Oct. 4, Carolina
CALGARY – Saturday, Oct. 8, Pittsburgh
CAROLINA – Friday, Oct. 7, Tampa Bay
CHICAGO – Saturday, Oct. 8, Dallas
COLORADO – Saturday, Oct. 8, Detroit
COLUMBUS – Friday, Oct. 7, Nashville
DALLAS – Friday, Oct. 7, Chicago
DETROIT – Friday, Oct. 7, Ottawa
EDMONTON – Sunday, Oct. 9, Pittsburgh
FLORIDA – Saturday, Oct. 15, Tampa Bay
LOS ANGELES – Tuesday, Oct. 18, St. Louis
MINNESOTA – Saturday, Oct. 8, Columbus
MONTREAL – Thursday, Oct. 13, Calgary
NASHVILLE – Thursday, Oct. 13, Phoenix
NEW JERSEY – Saturday, Oct. 8, Philadelphia
NY ISLANDERS – Saturday, Oct. 8, Florida
NY RANGERS – Thursday, Oct. 27, Toronto
OTTAWA – Tuesday, Oct. 11, Minnesota
PHILADELPHIA – Wednesday, Oct. 12, Vancouver
PHOENIX – Saturday, Oct. 15, Winnipeg
PITTSBURGH – Tuesday, Oct. 11, Florida
ST. LOUIS – Saturday, Oct. 8, Nashville
SAN JOSE – Saturday, Oct. 8, Phoenix
TAMPA BAY – Monday, Oct. 17, Florida
TORONTO – Thursday, Oct. 6, Montreal
VANCOUVER – Thursday, Oct. 6, Pittsburgh
WASHINGTON – Saturday, Oct. 8, Carolina
WINNIPEG – Sunday, Oct. 9, Montreal

It’s OK, you can get excited.

Sharks flip the script, tie Penguins heading into third period

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates with teammates after scoring a second period goal against Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins (not pictured) in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated the San Jose Sharks in the first period of Game 1, no doubt about it.

Even so, the Sharks entered the middle frame down 2-0, and responded rather than shriveling up. They basically switched roles with the Penguins in the second period, ultimately tying things up 2-2.

The first goal was one Matt Murray would probably like back (even more than a goalie would want any goal back, mind you), as Tomas Hertl beat him five-hole for a power-play goal.

Witness the Sharks’ first-ever goal in a Stanley Cup Final:

Fittingly, a grizzled veteran and longtime face of the Sharks’ franchise tied it up, as Patrick Marleau made it 2-2 with a clever wraparound:

Which team will win the third period? Could we see overtime? Find out on NBC.

Report: Blues will bring back Hitchcock with one-year deal

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues walks on the ice in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Yes, the St. Louis Blues fell short of the Stanley Cup Final, but they still broke some playoff hexes in 2015-16. Apparently Blues management saw enough to bring back Ken Hitchcock.

That’s the word from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos, who report that the Blues are expected to announce a one-year deal with the veteran head coach on Tuesday.

Friedman wonders if these one-year pacts (Hitchcock was on one for 2015-16 as well) may chase away other staffers:

When asked about these scenarios, Hitchcock seemed like he was in favor of experiencing a perpetual “contract year.”

“I scare myself because I think if I take long-term deal, I’m gonna get sloppy,” Hitchcock told Hockey Central at Noon and Sportsnet back in mid-May. “I want to stay on one-year deals.

For plenty of fans, it makes perfect sense to bring Hitchcock back after the Blues took steps forward.

Others wonder if Hitchcock’s style (which leans toward dump-and-chase and “gritty” hockey more than some other teams) may leave the Blues in the dust, however.

That’s a debate for a bar or a message board, yet one can see deeper logic in giving Hitchcock one more shot.

While the Blues have decisions to make – including what to do with free agent captain David Backes – the team is also structured to make another run. Brian Elliott, Jake Allen, Kevin Shattenkirk and Colton Parayko all have deals that will expire after 2016-17, and each contract is a bargain.

If St. Louis believes that Hitchcock is the right fit for that personnel group, then it makes sense to give him another go.

Crosby, Rust and Sheary lead Penguins’ early charge

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Bryan Rust #17 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with Evgeni Malkin #71 after scoring a first period goal against the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Generally speaking, the strategic talk heading into Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final focused on the San Jose Sharks’ deeper defense vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins’ blinding speed.

It’s very early, but so far: advantage Penguins.

Pittsburgh came roaring out of the gate in front of a boisterous Consol Energy Center crowd, but it took them a while to break through.

Once the Penguins did, they raced ahead to a 2-0 lead thanks to goals just 1:02 apart.

First, Bryan Rust kept his red-hot streak going with the 1-0 tally.

Moments later, Sidney Crosby made a beautiful pass to Conor Sheary to put the Penguins up two.

There were a few other moments in which the Sharks looked like they were really struggling with the Penguins’ speed, but Martin Jones made some saves that could be big if San Jose can gather its wits.

Beard breakdown: Burns vs. Thornton (Video)

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Sometimes you need to ask important questions, breaking down positional battles and strategies.

Other times you can’t help but ask “Which guy has the better beard?”

In the case of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, the San Jose Sharks boast two players with elite beards to match their elite skills. “Jumbo Joe” drew a lot of attention for his wild facial hair, yet Burns may very well have inspired Thornton to go heavy-whisker in the first place.

The video above breaks down those two beards, in case you’re itching for a comparison.

One thing that sparks little debate? Both players’ wives are real troopers.