The 2016-17 regular-season schedule was released Tuesday. Fans studied their favorite team's calendar of games and circled those dates and cities that interest them the most. Hotel rooms were booked and group texts were sent to organize the annual road trip among friends.
Some popular games on the schedule include the four season-openers on Oct. 12; the Pittsburgh Penguinsraising theStanley Cup banner to the rafters at Consol Energy Center on Oct. 13; the first-ever NHL Centennial Classic between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 1; and the annual Winter Classic on Jan. 2, when the St. Louis Blueswill host the Chicago Blackhawks at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
Combing through the schedule, we found a few other under-the-radar games fans should pay attention to during the 2016-17 slate. Here are a few of those games:
Buffalo Sabres at Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 16: Any time the Oilers' Connor McDavid and the Sabres' Jack Eichel face off, there will be plenty of attention surrounding that game. It occurred only once during the 2015-16 season, with McDavid scoring two goals -- including the overtime winner -- en route to a 2-1 victory against the Sabres. The two will be teammates for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey in September. The game between the Sabres and Oilers on Oct. 16 will be more than just those two budding superstars playing against each other. Both organizations are in the process of rebuilding, and the young talent should be exciting to watch as those players develop into top-tier NHLers.
New York Islanders at Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov. 10: Sure, these teams played in the second round of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, as the Lightning advanced to the Eastern Conference finals by winning the second-round series in five games, but the Islanders gained major confidence and learned more about their team at a crucial point of the season. Even though these two franchises are in different divisions, this matchup could well become a decent rivalry.
Montreal Canadiens at San Jose Sharks on Dec. 2: Martin Jones emerged as a standout goaltender in 2015-16 and helped guide San Jose to the Stanley Cup finals. At the start of the season, it appeared the Canadiens and their world-class netminder Carey Price would run away with the Atlantic Division and could be a strong contender for the Stanley Cup. Price suffered a season-ending knee injury in November and the Canadiens' playoff hopes dwindled. If healthy for next season, Price could produce a solid performance against Jones and the Sharks.
Dallas Starsat Maple Leafs on Jan. 31: The end of January will be just as important as the first two days of the month for the league. Forget the Centennial celebration and the Winter Classic; the Maple Leafs at Stars could be an outstanding tilt. The Stars produced an impressive 2015-16 season, while Toronto begins its rebuild. If and when the Maple Leafs select Auston Matthews with the No. 1 overall pick at the entry draft on Friday in Buffalo, then playing against the likes of the Stars' Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn should prove to be a midseason benchmark for Matthews and the Maple Leafs.
Anaheim Ducks at Washington Capitals on Feb. 11: This game could be a preview of a possible Stanley Cup finals matchup. Many believed these teams would face off in the 2016 finals but that did not come to fruition. A coaching change and a return to the Anaheim bench for Randy Carlyle could help the Ducks return to hockey's promised land. Despite a second-round loss to the Penguins, the Capitals will be built once again for a playoff run.
Colorado Avalanche at Winnipeg Jets on March 4: These two teams sat in the basement of the Central Division in 2015-16 with 82 and 78 points, respectively. The gut feeling here is that both teams could battle for a playoff spot next season, so this game, with only a month remaining in the regular season, could prove crucial.
Florida Panthers at Capitals on April 9: There are a total of 10 games slated for the last scheduled day of the regular season. Both teams finished atop their respective divisions in 2015-16 and there's no reason not to think it could happen again in 2016-17. If that's the case, maybe next spring the Panthers and Capitals will meet in a later playoff round.
Connor McDavid-Jack Eichel rematch among key games on the 2016-17 NHL schedule