One is the countdown to the end of the days of summer. Each day on that calender takes me one more step closer to September 20th when the Montreal Canadiens play their first pre season game against the Dallas Stars.
The other is the official regular season schedule that was released by the NHL a few short days ago.
A quick trip through the 2011-2012 calendar showed a typical Habs year ahead. The usual opening and closing matches. A typical Christmas time road trip. But there are some noted differences between last years docket, and the calendar for this upcoming season.
Of things that stay the same are the opening night of the NHL season (October 6th), as the Habs begin their Stanley Cup quest once again against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Also without change is how La Flanelle close out their season. Also against the Leafs, almost six months to the day (April 7th) of their opening night.
Another schedule note that feels quite at home, is the Habs longest road trip of the season beginning on December 19th, which will see them play 6 games in 13 days. This typical “Christmas road tour” will end in the state of Florida, where the arena’s of both the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers will be infused with Montreal snow bird fans that have travelled south to escape the harsh winter realities of the Great White North.
But there are some substantial changes to this years trip. Last season, the Habs were asked to face 7 games on the road in the waning days of December while facing two Western Conference teams and five Eastern Conference teams. This year, the trip gets shortened by a game, while being engrained with two very important divisional games against Boston (opening the road trip) and Ottawa.
On such a long hiatus from home ice, the team has had both success (two seasons ago going 6-1) and failure (last season being 2-5) on this trip. A trip that can easily set the tone for the balance of the season if things are too much of a struggle. Facing two divisional opponents in this years Christmas trip could have a substantial impact on how the team looks heading into the stretch through the second portion of the season.
It doesn’t get any easier from there for le Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge.
The Habs face ten back to back series this coming season, and the stretch run is where they face the most adversity.
October brings them one back to back experience when they face the Flyers at home on October 26th, followed by a trip to Boston on the 27th.
November is a tougher month with three back to back sessions, visiting Ottawa on the 4th, followed by a visit to the Rangers on the 5th. Carolina comes into le Centre Bell on the 16th, and the team then hits the bus for Long Island for the 17th. Rounding out the month are games in Philladelphia (25th), and then back home against Pittsburgh the following day.
December and January see only one back to back set of matches each month, while there are none in February.
The big test will be in the true stretch, as the Canadiens face three weekends in a row of back to back tests, at a time when pushing for a playoff spot becomes imperative (March 16th and 17th visiting Ottawa and then home to the Islanders; March 23rd and 24th at home to the Senators and then visiting the Flyers; March 30th and 31st on the road to the Rangers and the Capitols respectively).
They close out the back to back scenario in April as they host the Lightning (April 4th), followed by a trip to Carolina the following day.
There is no doubt that this schedule will test the mettle of both Carey Price, and the decision of Pierre Gauthier to bring Peter Budaj into the position as Price’s relief.
Another game that is worthy of note is October 9th, when the Canadiens travel to Winnipeg to challenge the new Jets in their inaugural NHL match-up. There couldn’t be a better way to welcome the Jets back to Canada than with this epic contest.
All in all, the Habs see a fairly even looking schedule as the number of matches stay fairly consistant from month to month (Oct-11, Nov-14, Dec-14, Jan-11, Feb-14, Mar-15, Apr-4).
So it seems it’s business as usual come October 6th. A day that I’m quite sure you have marked on your calendar as well!