A day or two ago, the Red Wings released their 2010-11 regular season schedule, and like everyone else I immediately looked it over so I could figure out when I absolutely needed to watch the game (unfortunately real-life dictates things so that I can't see them play every night). So with that, I present, in order, the 10 games I am looking forward to the most this season:
1. March 11 - vs Minnesota Wild - H2H2. Enough said.
2. October 9 - at Chicago Blackhaws - We're all aware of the firesale that occurred in the Windy City this year. What no one knows is how good this team is actually going to be now that half of the players are gone. I think this game sets the tone for the season, as the Wings can really make a statement that they are determined to take back the division crown after being usurped last year. The fact that it's the banner-raising ceremony for the Hawks will certainly add to the atmosphere, as the Wings will be looking to spoil the party while the Hawks will want to prove last year was no fluke. I expect a great game, and although it will the 2nd game of a back-to-back set for the Wings, it's so early in the season I am hoping that fatigue won't be much of a factor, if at all. And let's be honest with ourselves: did anyone really believe that the Hawks wouldn't raise the banner with the Wings in the building?
3. April 10 - at Chicago Blackhawks - 2 Hawks games in the first 3 I'm looking forward to? Absolutely, but this one is because I am planning on attending with a number of fans in the Chicago area and beyond. I think the plan is to take over a small section of the UC and really let all 12,000 Hawk fans there know that we enjoyed their attempt at staying with us all season, but the Wings are division champs (having clinched in late-March) and the Hawks are just trying to stay in the playoff race. My ultimate hope is that this game is meaningless for the Wings but is crucial to the Hawks, and the Wings are able to deal the Hawks' hopes a blow.
4. January 18 - at Pittsburgh Penguins - Even though they didn't get a chance to three-peat their Stanley Cup Finals rematch, the game at the Joe last year went a long way to continuing the burgeoning rivalry that exists between these two teams. I think it's extremely clear that there is no love lost between the Wings and Pens, as Henrik Zetterberg really seems to get under Sidney Crosby's skin. Add to that simmering dislike the fact that they are both going to be contenders again, and this could be yet another Stanley Cup Finals-preview. Personally, I'm hoping that Jimmy gets a chance to show Crosby up close his new goaltending equipment - especially his catching glove.
5. October 8 - vs Anaheim Ducks - I know it's weird that Opening Night is #5 on the list, and I'm certainly excited for this game because it marks the beginning of the season and the start of the quest for Number 12. However, the Ducks are a shell of the team they used to be, and most of the key guys that we hated from a few years ago (both Niedermayers, Pronger, Giguere) are gone. However, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are still around, so it's not like the rivalry is completely dead. It just doesn't feel the same. This game is going to be awesome because it's a chance for the Wings to get started on the right foot; Opening Night in the past has not been kind to them, but I just love the idea of them being potentially undefeated at some point after the season has begun.
6. November 30 - at San Jose Sharks - Revenge time, bitches. That's all this game is about for me. I know that winning a regular season game in December does not make up for losing a playoff series in May; but it still feels pretty damn good. Like the first game against the Hawks, this is a statement game for the Wings; it's a chance for them to show a potential contender in the West that they are back and ready to claim their throne atop the conference. I can't wait to see Nittymaki's face when he realizes what he is facing when he gets to the playoffs. The Wings will get the Sharks less than a week later at the Joe, so they can really do a number to the Sharks' psyche early in the season.
7. October 14 - at Dallas Stars - Mike Modano's return to Dallas. While the game itself doesn't present that great a matchup, as a hockey fan, I am interested to see how Stars fans respond to Modano coming back in a Red Wings sweater. I think it's going to be positive, given that it was not his choice to leave the team, but rather the team's decision not to bring him back for another year. I think it's going to be a very emotional game for Modano, and I believe it will be good for him to get this out of the way early in the season so that he doesn't have to worry about it going forward. I can only imagine what's going through his mind considering he's going back to the place where he spent the majority of his career (and the only franchise he's ever known). I'm going on record early predicting that this is his first multi-point game as a Red Wing.
8. December 31 - vs New York Islanders - I again picked a game that I don't really care about from a matchup perspective, but the NYE game is always fun. I've never been to one, and that won't change this year; but we usually have a small get-together to celebrate, and before people come over or we leave to go out, I watch the game. Without doing any research I think the Wings have been fairly successful in these games, which means that I'm usually ending my year on a positive note and beginning the new year on an upswing.
9. March 16 - vs Washington Capitals - Another potential Stanley Cup Finals preview. The Capitals are one of the most exciting teams in the NHL because their offense-first approach is just really fun to watch. Ovechkin, love him or hate him, is dynamic, and last year the Wings did a really good job containing him in the 2 games they faced him last year, including holding him to no shots in one of the games. Even though the Caps were the NHL's best regular season team last year, the Wings won the first matchup with them and would have won the second one had it not been for some brilliant goaltending by Theodore. This should be a really exciting game to watch, especially if you're a fan of offensive hockey.
10. March 26 - vs Toronto Maple Leafs - This one's personal. I hate the Leafs. They rank very closely behind the Hawks, Ducks and Avs on my list, and that stems solely from the fact that I have had to endure their idiot fans for my entire life. Wings-Leafs games in the past would always involve a lot of heated trash talk from me to my friends and vice versa, and inevitably someone's feelings would get hurt. There was nothing better than seeing the Wings beat the Leafs, and then watching every single local sportscaster deliver the highlights with the same sad-sack face for the rest of the night. Plus, the next day I would strut around wherever I was with a jersey or shirt on, rubbing it in the faces of every single Leaf fan I encountered. Was it mature? Hell no, and believe me when I say that I got as good as I gave. The Wings have had some real problems with the Leafs lately, losing to them in 2 important games in the last 2 years (the banner raising game in 2009 and the Hall of Fame Game last year). I don't just want the Wings to beat the Leafs: I want the Leafs humiliated. If I were the coach, I would purposefully run up the score, and would probably be sobbing while my players did it, all the while yelling at unseen faces from my past who had given me a hard time.
Those are the games I'm most looking forward to. How about you? Any on here that you think will be great? Are there any that you're waiting to see that didn't make my list? Could I ask any more questions? Let me know.