NHL schedule heightens Canadian rivalries

The puck will drop to begin the NHL season in Europe for the second consecutive season, as the league announced its full 2008-09 slate on Thursday.

The puck will drop to begin the NHL season in Europe for the second consecutive year, as the league announced its full 2008-09 slate on Thursday.

Daniel Alfredsson will return to his native Sweden as the Ottawa Senators open in Stockholm on Saturday, Oct. 4, against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The New York Rangers will play the same day in Prague against Vincent Lecavalier and the Tampa Bay Lightning, whose roster includes No. 1 draft pick Steven Stamkos and a host of new players the team has acquired in the off-season.

For the first time since before the 2005 lockout, every team in the league will play all others at least once next season. The teams had been meeting inter-conference foes once every three seasons.

Canadian teams in opposing conferences will face each other twice, once in each club's rink.

The first games in North America will take place on Thursday, Oct. 9, when the Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Detroit Red Wings, who will raise the banner recognizing their Stanley Cup victory last month.

Later that night, the Calgary Flames face off in Vancouver against the Canucks. The clubs will rejoin in Calgary two nights later.

The Montreal Canadiens will debut in Buffalo on Friday, Oct. 10, renewing their historic rivalry with the Leafs in Toronto the next night.

Ottawa will play its first game after the European sojourn at home against Detroit on Saturday, Oct. 11.

The Edmonton Oilers start their season on Sunday, Oct. 12, with a home game against Colorado. The Oilers, looking to return to the playoffs for the first time in three years, will play at Rexall Place just six times over their first 20 games.

Each team will play 18 interconference games, up from 10. But a full interlocking schedule in which every team would visit every other team at least once isn't in the cards, commissioner Gary Bettman said in May, partly because of inflated travel costs due to rising fuel prices.

NHL teams will play their division rivals six times — down from eight in recent years — as a result.

There are also some other dates of interest for Canadian clubs.

Vancouver will play at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 19 against New York, its only game against the Rangers since Markus Naslund joined after nearly 12 seasons with the Canucks.

Wade Redden, who played over a decade in Ottawa, will return to the city on Nov. 22 as a member of the Rangers. The teams play five days earlier in New York.

Toronto will host a matinee on Canadian Thanksgiving, Oct. 13, against the St. Louis Blues.

The NHL all-stars will be in action on Sunday, Jan. 25, at Bell Centre in Montreal, part of the centennial year celebrations for the Canadiens.