The 2011-12 schedule was released on Thursday afternoon by the NHL, and it features some really cool features. In addition to the European slate of games and the Winter Classic on January 2nd between the Flyers and Rangers at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, there is also a new wrinkle in the schedule this season: on April 7th, all 30 teams will be in action on the last day of the season. The Coyotes will be playing in Minnesota that evening, and some other notable matchups on that date include the Blackhawks and Red Wings, Maple Leafs and Canadiens, and the Sharks and Kings in a Pacific Division showdown.
With that general stuff out of the way, here are five games (plus an honorable mention) that are arguably the most important on the Coyotes’ schedule next season:
Honorable Mention: Winnipeg vs. Phoenix, October 15th
The Coyotes’ home opener will pit them against what appears to be the Winnipeg Jets in a clash of the old and new incarnations of the franchise. Obviously this matchup doesn’t mean a lot from a divisional standpoint since the two teams play in separate conferences, but from a bragging rights perspective, the game will mean a lot for both franchises.
Phoenix at Philadelphia, November 17th
This game, which comes in the middle of a five game road trip, is important for several reasons. Most important among those is that they will likely be facing goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who left Phoenix after being unable to come to terms on a new contract extension. He just signed a massive 9-year, $51 million deal with the Flyers, and so it will be interesting to see whether or not the Coyotes step up their game in order to show their old goalie what he’s missing.
Phoenix at Winnipeg, December 1st
Not only do the Coyotes have to play the Jets in their home opener, but Winnipeg is one of only three teams from the Eastern Conference that Phoenix has to play twice this season. This means that the Coyotes will journey north to MTS Centre and into what may end up being the most hostile environment they will ever face in their careers. Getting an NHL team will likely not soothe the wounds inflicted by the Coyotes fleeing south in 1996, and it will be the first chance that the fans they left behind to voice their displeasure. Prepare for a very loud building that evening.
Detroit at Phoenix, January 19th
This will be the first matchup in Phoenix between these two teams since their playoff series in April, but it also represents the beginning of an important portion of the schedule for the Coyotes. They play 11 of 13 games at home starting with this one, and it will be crucial to get off to a good start to that run against a Detroit team that is looking to make one last run toward a Stanley Cup.
Chicago/Vancouver at Phoenix, February 11th & 13th
This may be a two game couplet, but it is another important moment in the season for Phoenix. They will be playing a Chicago team that will undoubtedly be a serious playoff contender again, and the Canucks just came within a game of winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. The playoff readiness of the Coyotes will be tested strongly here, and they will need to defend home ice.
San Jose/Anaheim at Phoenix, March 29th & 31st
Another couplet of games features the last two contests that the Coyotes will play against members of the Pacific Division. With their final three games featuring teams from the other Western divisions, the Coyotes will need to make some hay against these two clubs. The Coyotes were unable to overcome San Jose to win the Pacific last season in a stretch where they played three games against the Sharks, and the Ducks are looking to improve on last season, where they finished fourth in the West.