Immediately after the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding marked the official end of the NHL lockout, the league released its official schedule for the shortened 2013 regular season. You can view the Sharks' schedule here. It includes the requisite 6-game, 12-day, tennis road trip in February, two separate homestands of six or more games, nine back-to-backs and plenty of exciting matchups. Here are ten of the best.
At Calgary Flames, January 20th
For the first time in 274 days, the San Jose Sharks will skate onto NHL ice. The opponent leaves something to be desired (unless you're someone who still obsesses over San Jose's loss in the 2004 Western Conference Final) but we'll probably all just be too ecstatic to care. At least until Miikka Kiprusoff pitches a 42-save shutout because of course he will.
Vs. Phoenix Coyotes, January 24th
And after a full 280 days, the Shark Tank will play host to Sharks hockey. After routing the Coyotes 6-3 in a game that probably wasn't even as close as the scoreboard indicated to open the 2011-12 season last October, the Sharks will once again play host to Phoenix in their home opener.
Vs. Vancouver Canucks, January 27th
The first real litmus test of the season comes early as the Sharks do battle with a team that has sneakily developed into one of their fiercest rivals. Games between these two Cup contenders (we can still pretend the Sharks are one of those, right?) have been incredibly memorable over the past few seasons and this should be no exception. The only real question is whether or not Roberto Luongo will be in net (or even on the bench) for this one.
At St. Louis Blues, February 19th
Speaking of playoff-bred rivalries, the Sharks will return to the scene of the crime to take on the team that eliminated them from the first round in five games last spring. The Blues have had a quiet offseason thus far but with Ken Hitchcock behind the bench and David Backes and Alex Pietrangelo on the ice, they're still a formidable opponent likely to give San Jose fits.
Vs. Detroit Red Wings, February 28th
Completing the hat trick of highlighted rivalry games, the Sharks' first of three matchups against the Wings won't be until late February but we assume it will have been worth the wait. With Nicklas Lidstrom gone from their blueline and Tomas Holmstrom no longer occupying opposition creases, this Detroit team might take some getting used to. That is, until Pavel Datsyuk dangles through the neutral zone, splits two defensemen and makes Antti Niemi look like Dan Cloutier.
At Colorado Avalanche, March 10th
T.J. Galiardi will make his (hopefully) triumphant return to Denver to face his former team while Jamie McGinn laces up the skates for the Avalanche. Don't sleep on Colorado this season; with three lines of talented scorers, a solid if underrated goalie in Semyon Varlamov and some decent pieces on the blueline, they might actually make the playoffs this year.
Vs. Los Angeles Kings, March 14th
This is the one to really circle on your calendars. For whatever reason, the Sharks won't face Los Angeles until mid-March, kicking off a final month-and-a-half of the season in which they'll play the Kings four times. This will be the first game between the California rivals since that epic home-and-home to close the 11-12 season and, of course, the first meeting since L.A.'s championship.
At Minnesota Wild, March 23rd
Believe it or not, this will be Martin Havlat's first game back in Minnesota since being traded by the Wild two summers ago. Or at least it should be unless he gets injured coming off on a line change again. This will also be the first chance the Sharks get to face a revamped Minnesota squad featuring Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund in addition to familiar faces Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley.
Vs. Dallas Stars, April 7th
Jaromir Jagr visits the Tank for just the second time in nearly a decade and he'll bring O.G. Shark Ray Whitney with him. Less than a month will remain in the season at this point so expect this to be a tense battle with a lot on the line between two teams competing for a playoff spot and a possible division title.
At Los Angeles Kings, April 27th
In what's quickly becoming something of a tradition, the Sharks and Kings will close out the NHL regular season with its final game for the second year in a row. Slated to be broadcast nationally on NBC, there really is no better way to close out the campaign than this.
A full CSN-California broadcast schedule should be out soon. Training camp opens tomorrow. Hockey is finally back, everyone.