Schedule release day in the NHL is kind of like getting an invitation to someone's wedding. There's the initial "wow!" factor as you tear it open for the first time, then it sits on your refrigerator for three months until it's almost time to actually do something with it.
With that in mind, consider this your invitation to the 2011-12 NHL season. (Reception immediately following.)
What are the dates I should circle right now?
- Friday, October 7: Season opener (and home opener) as the Canes face the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Doesn't it seem like the Canes play a home opener against Tampa every year, either in Raleigh or Tampa?)
- Wednesday, October 12: The Canes welcome the Stanley Cup champs to the RBC Center for the first time in a game that will be nationally televised somewhere (listed as a 7:30 start). Wednesday is an odd day for a Versus telecast, so this might be a TSN game, but as we saw in the Cup Final the Bruins are a big draw for US television. We'll find out soon enough.
- Saturday, October 22: The Canes play their first game in Winnipeg since they were the Hartford Whalers in 1996, and the 7:00 start (6:00 Central) indicates that they will be on Hockey Night in Canada, though with the Leafs and Habs playing at the same time it will likely be Manitoba-only. Still, this will likely be the Canes' only appearance on HNIC.
- Friday, November 25: The Winnipeg Whatevers make their first trip to the RBC Center on the day after Thanksgiving.
- Saturday, December 31: It's a New Year's Eve game, but it's in Tampa and not Raleigh. That makes this the second straight year the Canes have not played a game on New Year's Eve at home.
- Saturday, February 4, 2012: Justin Williams makes an appearance at the RBC Center for the first time since 2009 as the Kings visit the Canes.
- Thursday, March 15 and Wednesday, March 21: Nothing remarkable about either of these games (St. Louis and Florida, respectively) but these are your only two chances to see the Canes at home in a stretch from March 3 to March 30 (!!) as they're on three road trips that cover most of the month.
- Friday, March 30 and Saturday, March 31: Pitch a tent in the parking lot of the RBC Center as the Canes play back-to-back home games against New Jersey and Winnipeg.
- Thursday, April 5: Fan Appreciation Night as the Canes host the Montreal Canadiens.
- Saturday, April 7: The Canes close the season with a game at Florida in the last day of the regular season, and every team in the league is active on that day.
What do the back-to-backs look like this year? Didn't the Canes play about a zillion of them last year?
Yes, they did, and this year is substantially better. The Canes have 16 back-to-back sets, meaning 32 of their 82 games are back-to-back, an enormous improvement from last year when over half of their games (42 of 82) were part of a back-to-back. All but that one B2B in March involve travel, and just 6 of the back-to-back sets are composed of two straight road games.
How about some stats?
Here ya go:
- The Canes' longest homestand of the year is a six-game stretch from February 20 through March 3 (Washington, Anaheim, Florida, Nashville, NY Rangers, Tampa Bay).
- Their longest road trip? Immediately after that homestand, a five-game trip to clear space for the circus March 6 through March 13 (at Washington, at Buffalo, at Tampa Bay, at Florida, at NY Rangers). Yes, that's five games in eight days.
- Trips to Winnipeg: Saturday, October 22; Friday, December 9; Sunday, March 18.
- Western Conference teams the Canes will face only at home: Chicago, Dallas, Vancouver, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Jose. Only on the road: Calgary, Edmonton, Colorado, Minnesota, Columbus, Detroit. The Canes will play home-and-homes with St. Louis, Nashville and Anaheim.
- From December 6 through 15, the Canes will play nothing but Canadian teams: at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Winnipeg, at Toronto, home vs. Vancouver.
- The Canes have 19 home games on weekends: 10 Friday games, 7 Saturday games and 2 Sunday games.
So, what's this all mean?
Unlike last year, when the Canes had to deal with a ridiculous roadtrip to start the season, they will instead face their toughest challenge late in the year. It probably isn't too much to say that the Canes will need to be in a playoff spot on Cam Ward's birthday (February 29, 2012) if they have any chance of making the postseason. March is an absolutely brutal month, with a five-game road trip during the circus, a back-to-back to Minnesota and Winnipeg and a three-gamer to Columbus, Detroit and Toronto. In all, the Canes play sixteen games in March, and ten of them are on the road. A .500 record in March would be excellent, all things considered.
Here's the schedule from the Canes (PDF), the NHL's press release and the full NHL schedule by team.
So, what are you looking forward to next season?