The new NHL schedule is out now and I'd like to hit a few of the highlights that caught my eye for the upcoming year:
The opener this season is Saturday Oct 9 and is also the home opener at the St Pete Times Forum against the division rival Atlanta Thrashers at 7:30pm.
Tampa's next game is a road trip to Montreal as the Bolts become the Habs' home opener opponent at the Bell Centre at 7:30pm on Wednesday Oct 13; this is also the Lightning's first road trip, a 3 gamer, which takes them to Stanley Cup finalist Philadelphia and in-state rival Florida before returning home.
Old friend Brad Richards and the Dallas Stars come to visit on Monday Oct 18 at 7:30pm.
Beginning Oct 30, Tampa Bay goes on a West Coast swing, taking them to visit Phoenix and the California teams. My apologies to those folks on the West Coast, but I absolutely hate 10:00pm and 10:30pm starts back east...
The always entertaining "John Tortorella show" comes a'callin' on Wednesday Nov 24 as the Rangers come to visit at 7:30pm. There is also a return engagement on New Year's Day as an alternative to the outdoor "Winter Classic" game. The Lightning's game, however, doesn't start until 7:30pm, so you can watch both, if you're so inclined.
In early December the Lightning will make the dreaded Western Canada swing, going to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, playing back to back nights on Friday Dec 10 in Edmonton and Saturday Dec 11 in Vancouver (possibly an HNIC game?).
In the new year, head coach Guy Boucher's other suitor, the Columbus Blue Jackets, come to the St Pete Times Forum on Tuesday Jan 18 (which would be my father's birthday too, by the way).
Then, unless I am reading the schedule wrong or my copy has a misprint (and I doubt that because I got it straight off the NHL.com website), from Sunday Jan 23 – Friday Feb 25, the Bolts have one huge, ginormous home stand of 12 straight games! They play the likes of Buffalo, Detroit, New Jersey, Phoenix, Philly and Washington - all playoff teams from last season. A good time for the Lightning to get a measure of how well they stack up against the so-called "big boys" from a year ago. The Toronto Maple Leafs also visit, as we know there are a lot of "Let's go Leafs" chants when they come to town. Let's try to drown them out this year!
The Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks come to town on Wednesday Mar 9 for their only game against the Lightning in Tampa. A return game in Chi-town is on Sunday, Apr 3. And Tampa finishes up the season with a visit to Raleigh NC and the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday Apr 9.
There do not appear to be any really long road trips and there should be a lot of good games in this upcoming season; the Bolts will get a chance to see what GM Steve Yzerman, head coach Guy Boucher and any additions they make can really do. Enjoy the season everybody!