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Circle these dates Preds fans; the games of interest are…

Taking a look at the 2010-11 Nashville Predators schedule leads us to more than a few notable games. So get out those red Sharpie markers and get ready to circle some dates as these games are the most noteworthy of the season.

October 16, 2010 – Preds vs. Washington Capitals
Casual fans won’t have to wait long to pack Bridgestone Arena this season as the best player in the National Hockey League (and maybe of this generation) will be in town. Alexander Ovechkin will bring his dynamic play and infectious personality into Nashville on this Saturday in mid-October. Just the third home game of the season and the fourth game overall, the Preds will get an early measuring stick as they face off against the Eastern Conference’s best. Ovechkin and company will have their creative tanks full as the season will barely be under way but the goalie situation in Washington should be shaky as they see if Semyon Varlamov is, in fact, able to be their go-to goalie this year.

October 21, 2010 – Preds vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
It’s no secret the Predators draw bigger crowds once football season is over. It’s just the curse of having an ice hockey team in football country. So, it’s great to see one of the faces of the league in town on a weeknight. Sidney Crosby and his Pittsburgh Penguins will waddle into Nashville on a Thursday night and almost certainly give Bridgestone Arena its third sell out of the season (assuming opening night and the Caps game are also sold out). If that’s the case, the Preds will have 17,112 in three of their first five games of the season. Nobody in Music City is going to complain about that. As far as the game goes, this might be the last year the Pens are considered an elite club. According to Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Chris Kunitz and Matt Cooke are the only forwards locked up past July 1, 2011. Not a good sign as four of those five players make over $3.5 million a year. Doesn’t leave much room to sign talented supporting cast members. Either way, it should be quite a treat to have the Pens in Nashville for the first time in a while and it should be considered a gift from the National Hockey League that the game is on a week day.

October 24, 2010 – Preds at Tampa Bay Lightning
Fan favorite Dan Ellis moved on this summer. He moved onto the Montreal Canadians via trade but then signed with the Lightning (a/k/a the Fighting Stevie Y’s) once the free agency period came. Tampa Bay is arguably the best destination for Ellis as he has a legitimate shot at being the starter, which is what he wanted all along. Well, on this Sunday night, the Predators players will get to see their old teammate wearing his new sweater for the first time. It’s just too bad Predators fans won’t be able to see him in person until at least next year. Ellis and Pekka Rinne will be on the opposite ends of the same sheet of ice for the first time in their careers. Considering both guys should be extra-motivated to show-up the other, this game should be a lot of fun to watch.

November 13, 2010 – Preds vs. Chicago Blackhawks
The first time Predators fans will boo the 2010 Stanley Cup Champions (and the team that knocked them out of the playoffs) will be on Saturday night, November 13. It should be a packed house as many a Preds fan will want to let out the frustration that’s been festering since April 26. Will Martin Erat make ammends for his selfish mistake that cost his team a 3-2 series lead? Will Joel Ward make ammends for his poor defensive positioning on Marian Hossa‘s overtime game-winning goal in Game 5? Will the Nashville power play make ammends and bury goals on every opportunity? Even if all that happens, it won’t go back in time and fix the first round series but it’ll at least give the fans an excuse to vent.

December 6, 2010 – Preds at Atlanta Thrashers
The closest geographical rival to the Nashville Predators is the Thrashers and this is the first of their two game series this season. Former Predator Rich Peverley, who never really got a fair shake in Music City, has scored 90 points in 121 games since being picked picked up on waivers by Atlanta. Those 90 points, by the way, are the most by any Thrashers player not named Ilya Kovalchuk over that same span. And, speaking of former Preds, Chris Mason will be minding the nets in his new home of Hotlanta as well. Even though the game is on a Monday night, the hope is that Pred Nation will make the trek to Georgia and make it a virtual home game, like it did last season. Tickets are easy to find (on craigslist especially) and they typically go pretty cheap. Or, if you’re not comfortable doing that, you can always – and we do mean always – walk up to the box office and buy tickets before the game. It’s a three and a half hour drive from Nashville. And, with Atlanta being on Eastern time, it’s an hour ahead so it’s realistic to make the trip there and back without having to stay in a hotel. So, Pred Nation, ask for the day off work now and let’s do this.

January 15 and 16, 2011 – Preds and Chicago Blackhawks
The first home-and-home series of the season for Nashville is with division rival Chicago on this weekend. The two teams will jockey for Central Division positioning Saturday in Music City and then Sunday in the Windy City. This has the potential to be an eight-point swing as, if one team wins both games, they’ll not only have captured four points but they’ll have taken away four points from the losing team. With Chicago projected to challenge for first place in the Central once again this season and with Nashville projected to challenge for second place, bookmark this weekend as a two-game series that could turn the tides of the entire division.

January 26, 2011 – Preds at Vancouver Canucks
The first time Shea Weber will be able to unload a thundering body check on former Pred Dan Hamhuis will be on this Wednesday night in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. Don’t be surprised if the two blueliners treat it as a warm-hearted reunion however as the fans inside Rogers Arena won’t care in the slightest that Hamhuis came from the Nashville organziation. Don’t put it past Weber to blast Hamhuis on this night, but rest assured an extra effort won’t be made to do so. Either way, you’ll want to take a nap on Wednesday afternoon so you can stay up for this late tilt as face-off is at 9:00pm Central.

February 7, 2011 – Preds vs. Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Jones’ homecoming. He played just a game and a half after being claimed off waivers by Edmonton before going down with a knee injury. He eventually returned for the final six games of the year and looks to be a top nine forward for the Oilers this season. It’ll be nice to see Jonsey with a permenant roster spot somewhere and it’ll be nice to see him in Nashville once again.

February 17, 2011 – Preds vs. Vancouver Canucks
Now here’s the game all the Hamhuis-haters want to see. His first visit to Nashville since signing with Vancouver back on July 1, 2010. Truth be told, Hamhuis wasn’t nearly as bad as Predators fans accused him of being. Well, okay, he was when paired with Kevin Klein. But, in all honesty, Hamhuis is a solid defenseman and provided quite a few great moments while wearing a Preds sweater. He may shine in Vancouver but he also may be exactly the same player we remember: a solid blueliner who’s overrated by the rest of the league because they don’t watch him on an every day basis. Canucks fans will slowly but surely learn this fact and Predators fans will be on the edge of their seats, anxiously awaiting someone like Weber or Jordin Tootoo to put him through the boards at any given opportunity. Think Bridgestone Arena is loud normally? Just wait until that happens.