I’ve spent a while looking over the Kings schedule for 2011-2012, drooling over the games, and eagerly anticipating the return of hockey to my life. Fortunately that time is fast approaching, with camp set for September, and August almost half over. That being said, it seems like as good a time as any to take a look at five games that I think will be highlights of the season. These are games that will be particularly entertaining either for Kings fans, for hockey fans, and most often, for both.
I’d love to hear your ideas of which games you are looking forward to, but in the meantime, here are my five picks:
October 7th, 2011 – New York Rangers (in Stockholm, Sweden)
Of course it is interesting that the game is going to be played in Europe, and certainly deserves a place on this list by virtue of being the first game in the season. In either case, this showdown against the team from the Big Apple was always going to be here. That said, this season there’s even another reason to make it on the list – Brad Richards. You remember, the star forward who snubbed the Kings to go to a team with a history of being a terrible playoff team full of underachievers? Oh yea. That guy. Well now we’ll have the chance to see how our Mike Richards, Simon Gagne and others are able to fill the hole and match up against “what might have been.”
November 5th, 2011 – Pittsburgh Penguins (in Los Angeles)
This was a bit of a question mark, but the reason that it made the list this time around is because the Penguins are both an electric team to watch, and because assuming they get a healthy Crosby back to pair with Malkin and their defense, they are a strong contender for the Stanley Cup. This will be a great chance for the Kings to see how they compare to one of the elite squads in the Eastern Conference. On top of it all? This game is on my birthday, so you’d better believe I’ll be watching this one hoping for a little birthday luck on the Kings behalf.
December 13th, 2011 – Boston (in Boston)
If the matchup against Pittsburgh is a chance to see how the Kings match up against Eastern Conference favorites, this game is an even more obvious chance to measure up to a Cup Champion. This is the squad that took home Lord Stanley’s Cup last season, and by this point the Kings should start to have an idea where they are as a squad. I would expect some limited struggles at the beginning of the season while the new players find their groove and figure out their individual roles, but by this point the Kings had better have a firm idea where they’re heading. And if it’s to the top of the West, this will be a game that will help demonstrate that fact.
March 3rd, 2012 – Anaheim (in Los Angeles)
I hate the Ducks. I’m sure I’m not the only Kings fans with that kind of animosity. It’s appropriate that there would be at least one game on this list pairing the Kings up against their hated cross-town rivals. This game is the first of two in the month of March, at a time where historically the Kings (and potentially Ducks) will be fighting for playoff position. With any luck the Kings will be healthily ensconced at the top of the Conference, although the parity in the West means it’s unlikely that it will be a runaway, regardless of how good they play. This will be a chance to simultaneously lock up some more precious points, but also deny them from the Ducks.
April 5th & 7th, 2012 – San Jose (Home and Away)
I cheated on this one. It’s not only one game, but it is a vitally important season closing series against the Sharks. The San Jose Sharks have been perennial division champions, and the Kings are going to want to challenge for that spot. These two games might have an incredible amount of relevance in that series, since there is potentially a 4 point swing between the two that can have a dramatic difference in the playoff standings. As we know, the difference between a division championship and 2nd place can be significant, since the division champions are locked into top 3 positions and guaranteed home-ice advantage. If the Kings are where they want to be, these two games will play a large role in determining who they line-up against when the playoffs roll-around.