TORONTO - The October portion of the Maple Leafs’ 2011-12 schedule can viewed as both blessing and curse.
Toronto starts with five consecutive home games, beginning with the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, Oct. 6, a stand that includes vists by Ottawa and the return of Winnipeg. In all, Toronto’s first 18 games include 10 against clubs that also missed the playoffs last season. If they want a quick start to bank playoff points, that’s a favourable break.
But the downside is the pressure on coach Ron Wilson’s team will be greater if they don’t maximize the points. Don’t expect season ticket holders to be thrilled about being chained to 40 Bay St. for so many days, either.
The Leafs pay for homesticking later on, with two lengthy road trips, including five games in mid-March, already their busiest month with 15 dates. General manager Brian Burke is also concerned about 17 occasions this season when the Leafs will play on consecutive dates.
“Because Hockey Night In Canada uses us so often, we get stuck with a lot of back-to-backs and a lot of single-game road trips,” Burke said Thursday. “But we’re kind of stuck with it. Overall, I’d say the schedule is fine.”
Goaltender James Reimer is pumped for the New Year’s Eve game at the MTS Centre in his home province of Manitoba. It’s the Leafs’ first visit to Winnipeg since 1996.
“You know the passion everyone had there for the Jets,” said Reimer, who was a hard-core fan as a kid in nearby Morweena, Man. “In the past 15 years, you still felt the buzz. I had the opportunity to play in that rink in the AHL. It will be different getting tickets for my family there (than the expensive ACC).”
The Leafs also announced an eight-game pre-season schedule on Thursday, including home and away games with Detroit, Ottawa, Buffalo and Philadelphia.
Highlights of the Leafs’ 2011-12 schedule
Oct. 6 vs. Montreal - Opening night against Habs, 709th regular season meeting.
Oct. 19 vs. Winnipeg - Return of the yet-to-be named club.
Oct. 20 @ Boston - First road game will be against the new Cup champions.
Dec. 17 vs. Vancouver - Only game against Cup finalists.
Dec. 31 @ Winnipeg - First game in Winnipeg since 1996.
Jan. 31- Feb. 1 - Home and home against Penguins.
Feb. 29 @ Chicago - Rare Leap Year game.
April 7 @ Montreal - Last regular season game.
NHL schedule highlights
Oct. 6 – Season openers include Philadelphia at Boston.
Oct. 7 - European games featuring Rangers, Sabres, Kings and Ducks begin.
Oct. 9 - Winnipeg’s first home game vs. Montreal.
Oct. 15 - Mike Richards and L.A. Kings visit Philly.
Nov. 5 - Hall of Fame Game, Boston at Toronto.
Dec. 1 - Old Jets go home as Phoenix travels to Winnipeg.
Jan. 2 - Outdoor Game, Flyers @ NYR
Jan. 7 - Vancouver @ Boston, Stanley Cup re-match.
Jan. 25-30 - NHL all-star break
April 7 - Season concludes with busiest day, 15 games.