After a season like no other, the NHL is set for another unique campaign in 2020-21 that will bring rivalries to the forefront of a truncated 56-game schedule with temporary realignment that will see only divisional play. With added significance in every game, the season begins today with NBCSN hosting a tripleheader and Sportsnet airing two contests from the NHL’s first-ever All-Canadian division.
LIGHTNING TO RAISE BANNER, BEGIN STANLEY CUP DEFENSE
For the second time in franchise history and first since 2005-06, the Lightning will open a campaign as defending Stanley Cup champions when they host the Blackhawks on a banner-raising night at AMALIE Arena.
* The Lightning and Blackhawks will share a division for the second time after each competing in the Norris Division in 1992-93, Tampa Bay’s inaugural campaign. The Lightning defeated the Blackhawks in their first-ever game on Oct. 7, 1992, noteworthy on account of Chris Kontos scoring four goals in a 7-3 win.
* These teams also met in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, a six-game victory for Chicago. After claiming a title of its own last season, Tampa Bay enters 2020-21 looking to improve upon the record of defending champions in season openers, which stands at 58-25-16 all-time, including a 3-4-3 mark over the last 10 campaigns.
* Tampa Bay is 6-0-0 in season-opening games dating to 2014-15. That’s the longest such active win streak in the NHL, ahead of Colorado and Philadelphia at 4-0-0 apiece.
* Steven Stamkos leads the Lightning with 2-9—11 in 12 career season-opening games, which trails only Vincent Lecavalier (7-7—14 in 13 GP) and Martin St. Louis (6-7—13 in 13 GP) for the most such points in franchise history. Stamkos has 23-14—37 in 32 career regular-season games without teammate Nikita Kucherov (1.16 P/GP), who is expected to miss the 2020-21 regular season because of a hip injury.
* Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane has 7-11—18 in 13 career season-opening games, tied with Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin (11-7—18 in 15 GP) for the most such points among active NHL players. Kane’s 18 career points in Chicago’s season openers are the third-highest such total in franchise history behind Stan Mikita (5-15—20 in 20 GP) and Bobby Hull (11-8—19 in 13 GP).
LEAFS, CANADIENS TO OPEN SEASONS AGAINST EACH OTHER FOR 18TH TIME
The Maple Leafs and Canadiens are set to meet in their 18th all-time mutual season-opening matchup, the highest such total between two franchises in NHL history. Toronto owns a 10-6-1 edge in the previous 17 games (MTL: 7-9-1), including a 3-2 overtime win in the most-recent clash on Oct. 3, 2018.
* Auston Matthews has 9-2—11 in four season-opening games and is one of four players in NHL history to begin his career by scoring a goal in his team’s season-opening game in four straight campaigns. A player has never extended that run to five.
* Joe Thornton, who was acquired by Toronto on Oct. 16, 2020 and is set to begin his 23rd NHL season, has 5-12—17 in his team’s season-opening games (21 GP). Thornton’s 12 assists are the second-highest such total among active NHL players behind Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom (0-14—14 in 12 GP).
* Montreal is 4-0-2 in its last six season-opening games dating to 2014-15, which includes a 2-0-1 mark against Toronto over that span. The Canadiens’ six-game point streak in season openers is tied with the Lightning (6-0-0) and Capitals (4-0-2) for the longest such active run in the NHL.
CANUCKS TO VISIT OILERS AT ROGERS PLACE
After making the longest playoff run in 2020 among Canadian teams, Bo Horvat, Quinn Hughes and the Canucks visit Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and the Oilers at Rogers Place in the first of 10 head-to-heads scheduled for the 2020-21 regular season.
* Horvat led the NHL with 10 goals when Vancouver was eliminated by Vegas in Game 7 of the 2020 Second Round, while Hughes paced all rookies in points at the time (2-14—16 in 17 GP).
* Draisaitl (43-67—110 in 71 GP) and McDavid (34-63—97 in 64 GP) ranked first and second, respectively, in NHL scoring last season, while defenseman Hughes led all rookie skaters in assists and points with 8-45—53 (68 GP).
* Edmonton has contested four season-opening games in which both Draisaitl (2-6—8) and McDavid (6-3—9) were in the lineup, with the duo combining for 8-9—17. Their 17 points in season openers is the highest combined total by any pair of NHL teammates since 2016-17 (their first such game together).
* This marks the second straight campaign in which the Oilers and Canucks will open a season against each other. Edmonton earned a 3-2 win versus Vancouver on Oct. 2, 2019 – Draisaitl (1-2—3) assisted on the go-ahead goal by McDavid with 5:23 remaining in regulation, while Hughes had one assist.
* New Canucks goaltender Braden Holtby is 7-3-2 in 12 career appearances against the Oilers with a 2.06 goals-against average, .932 save percentage and two shutouts.
* Rogers Place has been the busiest NHL venue since the pause last March, playing host to 75 of the 130 games contested during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs as well as the entire 2021 World Junior Championship which concluded Jan. 5.
FLYERS, PENGUINS PLAY FIRST OF EIGHT HEAD-TO-HEAD MEETINGS IN 2020-21
The Flyers and Penguins meet in the first of eight Battle of Pennsylvania games slated for the 2020-21 regular season. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh each own a record of 3-3-1 through seven previous mutual season-opening contests.
* The Flyers have won each of their last four season-opening games dating to 2016-17, including a 4-3 win against the Blackhawks in the 2019 NHL Global Series at O2 Arena in Prague, Czech Republic on Oct. 4, 2019. Travis Konecny (2-4—6 in 4 GP) and Jakub Voracek (0-6—6 in 4 GP) lead the team with six points apiece during the team’s win streak in season openers.
* Penguins teammates Evgeni Malkin (5-10—15 in 13 GP) and Sidney Crosby (6-8—14 in 13 GP) each rank among the top 10 for career points in season openers among active NHL players. Only Mario Lemieux (6-14—20 in 14 GP) and Jaromir Jagr (3-13—16 in 11 GP) have more career points in season openers for the Penguins than Malkin and Crosby.
WESTERN CONFERENCE’S TOP TWO TEAMS TANGLE TO START 2020-21
The Avalanche and Blues, who ranked first and second, respectively, in the Western Conference standings at the conclusion of the 2019-20 regular season, go head-to-head in their first of eight matchups slated for 2020-21.
* Ryan O’Reilly, who last month was named St. Louis’ captain, had 0-6—6 in five games against Colorado in 2019-20 (regular season and playoffs). He skated each of his first six NHL seasons with the Avalanche from 2009-10 to 2014-15 and was the last Colorado player to win the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (2013-14) before Nathan MacKinnon claimed it last season.
* Jared Bednar has guided the Avalanche to a 4-0-0 record in season openers since being named head coach of the club ahead of 2016-17. He can become the sixth head coach in NHL history to earn wins in each of his first five career season-opening games.
BRUINS TO RETIRE O’REE’S No. 22 IN FEBRUARY
The Bruins announced Tuesday that hockey pioneer and Hall of Famer Willie O’Ree will have his No. 22 retired by the club in a pre-game ceremony at TD Garden on Feb. 18. The date will mark 63 years and one month since O’Ree made his League debut on Jan. 18, 1958, becoming the first Black player in the NHL.