It begins: Five storylines to watch for in tonight’s NHL season openers

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Drop the puck already. Since the middle of June, fans have been itching to get hockey back and now it’s here. Just like the end of last season, the new season starts off with the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks in action. They won’t be facing each other, but for the Bruins it’s their last taste of Stanley Cup glory as their banner goes up at TD Garden in Boston against the Flyers. Montreal starts their season in Toronto against the Maple Leafs and Vancouver hosts the Pittsburgh Penguins.

With those three games to look forward to tonight, there are five stories to eyeball as the night goes on.

1. Bruins’ quest to repeat starts against Flyers team ready to prove themselves

No team has repeated as Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998 and the Bruins would like to end that streak. They’ll do so with essentially the same team they had last season only swapping out Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi for Benoit Pouliot and defenseman Joe Corvo. Getting to start against their playoff nemeses from the last two seasons, Philadelphia, makes for a nice juxtaposition. With Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas getting a chance to carry the team once again, Boston should give Philly enough nightmares from last season to last a while.

The Flyers come into this season without Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and with Jaromir Jagr, Wayne Simmonds, and first round pick Sean Couturier. GM Paul Holmgren’s chemistry experiment to get the Flyers  back to the Cup finals begins in earnest against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season. Expect fireworks of all kinds.

2. Jaromir Jagr aims for a milestone in his first NHL game since 2008

With one point tonight Jaromir Jagr would hit 1,600 points for his career. After being away from the NHL since the end of the 2008 season playing in the KHL, Jagr’s hoping to be the guy that leads the Flyers to the Stanley Cup. With such a storied legacy, however, he’s got numerous statistical targets within reach this season. If Jagr was a selfish player he might be satisfied with just getting his point and be done. So far he’s saying all the right things about wanting to win it all for the Flyers. Here’s to hoping he keeps it up all year.

3. Max Pacioretty and Matt Lombardi return to action after different awful concussions

When we last saw Max Pacioretty in a regular season game he was being carted off the ice on a stretcher after being run into a stanchion by Zdeno Chara in March. The last time we saw Matt Lombardi on the ice was nearly a year ago for the Nashville Predators after getting knocked out of the second game of the year with a concussion. Tonight in Toronto, they’ll both be back in action going against each other after grueling recovery from their injuries. Here’s to hoping they both have incident-free seasons for their teams.

4. The Evgeni Malkin MVP campaign begins tonight?

After how well Evgeni Malkin looked in preseason, the question of whether he can bounce back from knee surgery and turn into an offensive dynamo all over again starts tonight against the Canucks. Malkin looked like the guy that we saw during the Penguins’ Stanley Cup-winning season in 2009 during the preseason. He was fast, made unbelievable moves, and dominated shifts while controlling the puck. With Sidney Crosby still out of action, if that Malkin shows up in the regular season we could pay witness to a very special season from the Russian superstar.

5. Oh yeah… The Canucks still play hockey

Hey, remember the Vancouver Canucks? They won the Presidents’ Trophy last year and were supposed to roll through to the Stanley Cup. They nearly pulled it off if it wasn’t for those meddling Boston Bruins. The Canucks’ quest to get back to the finals and come away with the hardware (and hopefully without burning down the city) starts at home. Fortunately for them they won’t have to deal with Sidney Crosby tonight.

Unfortunately, the Penguins are still a very good team and they’ll have Evgeni Malkin back in the lineup. For Vancouver, they’ll have to see what life is like without Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond and how things change with Marco Sturm and Cody Hodgson. Still, the Canucks bring a boatload of talent to the ice and they’ll be serious threats again out of the West. Here’s to hoping the memories of their last game in Rogers Arena haven’t stuck in their mind or else Roberto Luongo will start freaking out.

Roberto Luongo leaves game with apparent injury, as Panthers fall to Penguins

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The Florida Panthers lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. Making matters worse was the fact their goalie Roberto Luongo left the game in the third period with an apparent hand injury.

The injury occurred after a collision in the crease with Penguins forward Conor Sheary.

Luongo immediately went down to the ice in pain. A replay from above the net showed Luongo’s right hand getting caught in an awkward position against the post after coming into contact with Sheary as he cut through in front of the crease in pursuit of the puck.

The injury forced James Reimer off the bench and into the game with the Panthers trailing by a goal. MacKenzie Weegar tied the game for Florida before Sheary scored the eventual winner about eight minutes later, on a night when the Penguins fired 48 shots on the two Panthers goalies.

Luongo gave up three goals on 36 shots before leaving the game. The Panthers now head out on the road. They’ll visit the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Video: More offside drama had Sabres coach Phil Housley up in arms

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Just hours after the NHL admitted to an offside challenge error, there was another controversy during the Sabres-Canucks game on Friday.

Vancouver appeared to take the lead on a Daniel Sedin goal. However, Buffalo coach Phil Housley challenged the play for offside, after replays showed Jake Virtanen may not have had complete control of the puck as he broke in over the blue line.

The following challenge resulted in a brutally long review. For Buffalo, it was also unsuccessful as, surprisingly, officials deemed Virtanen did have control of the puck as he entered the zone. The goal counted, Vancouver took the lead.

Housley was not happy about it.

Not only was the challenge unsuccessful, but the Sabres were penalized for delay of game as a result.

From the NHL:

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Linesman, NHL Hockey Operations staff confirmed that Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen had possession and control of the puck as he entered the attacking zone prior to the goal. According to Rule 83.1, “a player actually controlling the puck who shall cross the line ahead of the puck shall not be considered ‘off-side,’ provided he had possession and control of the puck prior to his skates crossing the blue line.”

Therefore the original call stands – good goal Vancouver Canucks.

It took 4:27 to come to a decision, too.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Devils place goalie Cory Schneider on injured reserve

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) The New Jersey Devils placed goalie Cory Schneider on injured reserve with a lower-body injury suffered Thursday night in a 5-4 overtime victory at Ottawa.

Schneider left after the second period. Keith Kinkaid replaced him and stopped all nine shots he faced to earn the victory.

With Schneider sidelined, Kinkaid was expected to start Friday night at home against San Jose.

The Devils recalled goalie Scott Wedgewood from Binghamton of the American Hockey League.

The Devils catch a scheduling break with a week off until their next game Oct. 27, the first day Schneider is eligible to return.

Schneider is 4-1-0 in six games this season with a 3.30 goals-against average.

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Andreas Athanasiou, Red Wings finally settle on one-year deal

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The contract stalemate between the Detroit Red Wings and Andreas Athanasiou is finally over.

On Friday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that the two sides struck a deal that will see the 23-year-old forward back in the lineup, at least for this season. It’s a one-year deal worth $1.387 million.

Due to Detroit’s tight salary cap situation, the deal has not been officially registered with the NHL because general manager Ken Holland needs to free up space in order to fit Athanasiou’s contract.

Athanasiou, who was a restricted free agent this summer, was seeking a two-year deal worth around $2.5 million per season. The Red Wings, meanwhile, were holding firm on a one- or two-year deal carrying a $1.9 million AAV. As the stalemate dragged on, he began practicing with Swiss side HC Lugano, but did not sign a contract. He had until Dec. 1 to make an NHL return in order to be eligible to play this season. The KHL card was played, but as Torey Krug showed, that move is always a clear bluff.

The one-year pact is essentially a “show-me” deal for Athanasiou, who scored 18 goals and recorded 29 points last season. He finished second on the Red Wings in even strength goals (17) in 2016-17 and tallied a pair of overtime winners. A good year and with some salary off the books next summer, he can cash in with a longer-term contract. He’ll once again be an RFA next summer, so Detroit will control his rights, but he’ll have arbitration rights.

According to MLive.com’s Ansar Khan, along with the contract Athanasiou has been promised a minutes bump from the 13:27 he played last season, as well as regular time on both special teams units.

Detroit is off to a 4-3-0 start and averaging 3.14 goals per game. Once Athanasiou arrives from Switzerland and gets up to speed — possibly with an AHL conditioning stint — his presence will certainly be a boost to the Red Wings’ lineup.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.: