Rule changes mark NHL season starting on Thursday

One such initiative involves crackdown on head blows following a serious injury to Sidney Crosby, of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Little more than three months after Zdeno Chara, the Boston Bruins captain, raised the Stanley Cup, the NHL's biggest trophy is back in play when a new season begins tonight.

Opening night sees the Bruins celebrating their first title since 1972 when they entertain Philadelphia and Canada's oldest NHL rivalry is renewed when Toronto play host to Montreal.

The Bruins won the best-of-seven NHL Final in a seventh game last June at Vancouver, where the outcome triggered a riot by disappointed Canucks fans, hoping to see the club take their first crown.

The new season will also feature major rule changes to cut down the number of head injuries. For a major reason why, look no further than another game tonight.

Pittsburgh will play at Vancouver, where Sidney Crosby, the Penguins captain, scored the gold-medal goal for Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympic final against the United States.

But superstar Crosby will not play for Pittsburgh, having not recovered from a concussion suffered in a game last January. Crosby is on injured reserve and has not even returned to contact drills in workouts.

Not surprisingly, Crosby is a believer in the crackdown on head blows.

"Whether it's accidental or not accidental, you've got to be responsible out there," Crosby said. "You can do a lot more good than what it's going to take away from the game."

Pittsburgh, sparked by the Russian playmaker Evgeni Malkin, and Boston, backstopped by Tim Thomas and with Chara on defence, will remain among the NHL's top Eastern Conference contenders this season.

In the Western Conference, Vancouver had the best record in the regular season but barely ousted 2010 champion, Chicago, in the first round. Both will be Stanley Cup threats again.

Published: October 6, 2011 04:00 AM