Ranking the five best 2014-2015 home openers

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The NHL released the list of home openers in 2014-2015 for all 30 teams on Saturday afternoon and while everyone will be excited to see the league back in action in October, there are a few games that stand out above all.

After taking a look at who each team will get to host, we’ve picked out five games that are appointment viewing in the opening week of the season. Let’s rank them out, shall we? And before you ask, no, there was no debate over which game would be No. 1. Sorry Sabres-Blue Jackets and Islanders-Hurricanes, you didn’t make the cut.

1. Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks — October 8

Not only will the Kings be raising their 2014 Stanley Cup championship banner that night, the NHL was kind/cruel enough to have the Sharks be the guests of honor. You don’t need to be reminded that the Kings overcame a 3-0 series deficit against the Sharks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and went on to win it all.

Will Joe Thornton be there to soak in the agony of having the knife twisted one last time? Will Drew Doughty remark about the fear in the eyes of Sharks players again? If the Sharks can’t get up for this game…

source: AP2. Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins — October 16

The Habs will have to start the season on the road but when they do get back to Bell Centre, the Boston Bruins will be there to greet them. After the Canadiens took out the Bruins in the postseason and their Stanley Cup hopes with them, this ancient rivalry will get to reboot once again.

Seeing P.K. Subban on the ice should be enough motivation for Zdeno Chara and the Bruins to get up for the game. The Habs hope the respect they earned by beating Boston won’t be forgotten.

Let’s just hope Milan Lucic will be on his best behavior.

3. Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche — October 9 & 11

A bit of a funky situation with these two 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs combatants and division rivals as they start the year with a home-and-home series against each other. After going to seven games in the first-round of the playoffs ultimately won by the Wild, Patrick Roy’s Avs will get to start the season trying to wrangle Zach Parise and Ryan Suter all over again.

Big question for the Avs will be whether they’ll have Paul Stastny and Ryan O’Reilly there to try and get the season off to a good start. Equally good question for the Wild? Who will they have in goal? Ilya Bryzgalov was key for them in the playoffs but so was Darcy Kuemper. Niklas Backstrom is still around and Josh Harding may still be in the discussion.

source: AP4. Detroit Red Wings vs. Boston Bruins — October 9

It’s a playoff rematch between a Red Wings team that was game and beat up and a Bruins team that was too good and too much for the Wings. Now that they’re division rivals and they have a playoff battle under their belts, perhaps we’ve got the start of a good rivalry.

The Red Wings should have Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg at full strength while the Bruins will still have Tuukka Rask and Patrice Bergeron excelling. These two teams bring the best out of each other but the Bruins will be coming off an opening night game at home against Philadelphia. Nothing like back-to-backs to start the season.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens — October 8

It’s one of the most storied rivalries in the NHL and having the Leafs and Habs open up against each other in Toronto makes opening night all the more special. With the pomp and circumstance the Maple Leafs provide on opening night, it provides all the hockey feelings fans get tingly about.

It’ll also feature a Leafs team that hits the ice for the first time since an incredible season-ending collapse that saw them fall from third in the Eastern Conference to 12th in just over a month’s time. Meanwhile, the Canadiens are coming off an Eastern Conference Final appearance and were perhaps a Carey Price injury away from making the Stanley Cup Final.

Phil Kessel and Jonathan Bernier are about the only two Leafs players we know for sure will be on the ice for Toronto as they’ve got a summer filled with rumors and intrigue ahead of them.

Goalie nods: Blues give Hutton first start in two weeks

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Even though Jake Allen has played extremely well of late, Carter Hutton will get the call when the Blues take on the Coyotes in Arizona tonight.

Some of this could have to do with the opponent. The Coyotes are playing out the string on a forgettable campaign, and have lost six of their last seven. That includes a 4-1 defeat in St. Louis on Monday (in which Allen stopped 27 of 28 shots for the win).

As mentioned above, Allen has been great in March and deserves huge praise for turning his season around. He’s gone 8-1-1 this month with a remarkable .951 save percentage, allowing a mere 14 goals over his 10 appearances.

Hutton, though, has played equally well when called upon. He’s gone 4-1-0 over his last five starts, posting a .962 save percentage and a pair of shutouts. In his last outing, on Mar. 16, he allowed just one goal in a victory in San Jose.

For the Coyotes, Louis Domingue is in goal.

Elsewhere…

— A good matchup in Pittsburgh tonight, as the two defending Stanley Cup champions go head-to-head. Marc-Andre Fleury starts for the Penguins, while Corey Crawford goes for the Blackhawks.

— Calgary can clinch a playoff spot with a win tonight so, unsurprisingly, it’ll go with No. 1 Brian Elliott. No word yet on who starts for the visiting Kings, though it could be Ben Bishop after Jonathan Quick lost last night in Edmonton.

Philipp Grubauer gets the call for Washington, after Braden Holtby led the Caps to victory in Minnesota on Tuesday. Grubauer will take on Calvin Pickard, who starts for the Avs.

Vegas wants ‘progressive’ head coach, says McPhee

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Golden Knights GM George McPhee continued to list the characteristics he wants from a head coach this week, explaining that he’s searching for a forward-thinking bench boss.

“We want someone who is very current on the game, who is progressive on how the game should be played,” McPhee said in a recent phone call with season ticket holders, per the club website. “We’re looking for that progressive guy that can really help us through the early years and help develop our team and our players.”

So, time to connect the dots.

Back in November, Vegas owner Bill Foley laid the initial groundwork for McPhee’s coaching profile, saying he wanted to hire an experienced head coach.

“He’s not looking for a first-termer,” said Foley. “Some may or may not be available. … I would say the coach that we name is going to be a recognizable individual.”

Among the names that have already been floated, many fit the above billing: Jack Capuano, Gerard Gallant, Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therrien, among others.

Vegas has already spoken with Gallant and reportedly made contact with Capuano as well, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Gallant was nominated for last year’s Jack Adams as the NHL’s top coach, and McPhee is familiar with Capuano, having worked as an adviser to Isles GM Garth Snow prior to taking the Golden Knights gig.

It’s also believed former Flyers head coach Craig Berube is being considered, along with current Montreal associate Kirk Muller.

 

Pre-game reading: Tonight’s Kings-Flames game could get testy

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— Up top, the Calgary Flames don’t want Matthew Tkachuk to play any differently — even though Drew Doughty called the rookie winger a “pretty dirty player” after taking the 19-year-old’s elbow to the face earlier this month.

— Tkachuk was suspended two games for that elbow. Still, there could be fireworks tonight when the Flames and the Kings meet again in Calgary. Especially after Tkachuk replied to Doughty’s remarks with the following: “I expected more from him, honestly, than to go right to the media and start complaining after a loss.” (Calgary Sun)

— TSN’s Gary Lawless thinks Sergei Bobrovsky should win the Hart Trophy over Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. Lawless writes: “No other player has been as important to his team and its results as Bobrovsky has to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Take Bobrovsky off the C-bus and it’s not necessarily in the ditch but it isn’t nipping at the Capitals for the league lead.” (TSN)

— Coyotes captain Shane Doan is understandably frustrated about the lower-body injury that’s kept him out of the lineup the past six games. At 40, this could be Doan’s last year in the NHL, so hopefully he’s able to return and play at least once more in front of all his fans. (Arizona Republic)

— Golden Knights owner Bill Foley doesn’t want each team’s protected list to be made public ahead of the expansion draft. That being said, Foley is also realistic: “I’d rather we know what each team has left unprotected and we make our picks and it’s a big surprise. I think there’s going to be a lot of leaks, though. I found one thing about the NHL that … everyone talks.” (Yahoo)

— An appreciation of the Detroit Red Wings playoff streak, which will finally come to an end this season. The last time the Wings missed was 1990. As noted by Nick Cotsonika: “No player in the NHL today was in the NHL then, not even Jaromir Jagr. Nine of the franchises in the NHL today weren’t in the NHL, 10 if you include the Vegas Golden Knights, who begin play next season.” (NHL.com)

Enjoy the games!

The Leafs’ remaining schedule is no cakewalk

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The Toronto Maple Leafs took care of business last night, sending the floundering Florida Panthers to a 3-2 defeat at Air Canada Centre.

Now comes the hard part for the young Leafs. They have seven games left to book their first playoff appearance since 2013, and their schedule is no cakewalk.

The Leafs’ next three games are all on the road, in Nashville Thursday, Detroit Saturday, and Buffalo Monday. After that, it’s a four-game home stand to close out the schedule, all against formidable opponents: Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Columbus.

With a four-point playoff cushion, the Leafs can afford to lose a few games down the stretch. But head coach Mike Babcock doesn’t want his players looking too far ahead.

“I really believe with our group if we just focus on the day we’re playing and play right, we have a real good chance to win,” Babcock said. “That’s what we talk about and that’s kind of our mantra every day is just play right, play fast and we have an opportunity to be successful. We don’t get all caught up in the race. We know the standings, it’s in the paper every day, so we know that.”

The Leafs today sent goalie Garret Sparks back to the AHL. That can only mean good news for starter Frederik Andersen, who could play Thursday after missing last night’s victory with an upper-body injury.

Backup Curtis McElhinney got the nod against the Panthers, calling it the biggest game of his career. The 33-year-old then went out and made 25 saves to earn the win.

“It was great,” said McElhinney. “Getting a couple of goals in the first period there helped out a little bit and let me settle into it. It was a nice win.”