Previewing NHL opening night: Key players, betting lines for Predators-Lightning, Blackhawks-Penguins, Kraken-Knights


It’s been nearly four months since the Vegas Golden Knights won the Stanley Cup, and two days since they got their incredibly detailed championship rings. It’s time to drop the puck on the 2023-24 NHL season, and opening night features a tripleheader simulcast on ESPN and ESPN+: Nashville PredatorsTampa Bay Lightning (5:30 p.m. ET), Chicago BlackhawksPittsburgh Penguins (8 p.m. ET) and Seattle KrakenVegas Golden Knights (10:30 p.m. ET)

We’re here to get you ready for each game, with insights from ESPN Stats & Information for each matchup, and betting lines courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.

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5:30 p.m. ET | Watch live on ESPN+
Line: TB -170 | O/U: 6.5

Notes from ESPN Stats & Information

Predators

  • Last season, the Predators missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013-14 ending an eight-season run. Their streak of eight consecutive postseason appearances was tied for the second-longest active run in the NHL entering last season behind the Penguins’ 16 consecutive appearances, which was also snapped. The last time Nashville missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons was 2012-13 and 2013-14.

  • New Predators coach Andrew Brunette scored the first goal in franchise history on Oct. 13, 1998, when he scored at 5:12 of the first period against Trevor Kidd of the Carolina Hurricanes.

  • The Predators’ tough 2022-23 season can be attributed to a lack of scoring. The franchise goals leader Filip Forsberg played in just 50 games due to injury, scoring 19 goals. That was second on the team behind Matt Duchene‘s team-leading 22 goals. Every other team in the league had multiple 20-goal scorers last season.

  • The talent is there for Nashville, starting in goal with Juuse Saros. The 28-year-old started the second most games last season (63) and played more minutes than any goaltender (3809:59) but finished tied for seventh in wins (33). He has the third-shortest odds for the Vezina Trophy entering this season.

  • Another staple of the Predators back end is captain Roman Josi, who led the team in points with 59 (18 goals, 41 assists). The Predators were one of two teams last season to have a defenseman as their leading scorer (joining Erik Karlsson of the San Jose Sharks). Josi has led the team in points in each of the last four seasons. He’s the Predators’ all-time leader in points (601), joining Ray Bourque (Boston Bruins) as the only defensemen to be a franchise’s all-time leader in points.


Lightning

  • After three consecutive appearances in the Stanley Cup Final, which resulted in two championships, the Lightning were eliminated in the first round of the 2023 playoffs by the Toronto Maple Leafs. They have made the playoffs in each of the last six seasons.

  • Tampa Bay’s path to the playoffs this season will be more difficult with the loss of goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’s expected to miss approximately the first two months of the regular season due to surgery for a lumbar disc herniation. Since entering the NHL in 2014-15, Vasilevskiy is second in wins, with 263, behind Sergei Bobrovsky, with 265.

  • With Vasilevskiy out, more attention will be on the offense to score goals. Last season, the Lightning were eighth in goals per game at 3.41, their sixth straight season in the top 10. Tampa Bay had the NHL’s No. 3 power play (at 25.4%), behind the Edmonton Oilers (32.4%) and Maple Leafs (26.0%).

  • Last season, Brayden Point had a breakout season for the Lightning, scoring a team-high 51 goals. He became the third player in franchise history with a 50-goal season, following Vincent Lecavalier (52 in 2006-07) and Steven Stamkos (60 in 2011-12).

  • Stamkos recorded 84 points last season (34 goals, 50 assists), becoming the first player in franchise history to eclipse the 1,000-point mark. With 1,056 career points, Stamkos has the fifth most among active skaters, behind Sidney Crosby (1,502), Alex Ovechkin (1,485), Evgeni Malkin (1,229), and Anze Kopitar (1,141). Coincidentally, all five have achieved those totals playing for just one team.

8 p.m. ET | Watch live on ESPN+
Line: PIT -240 | O/U: 6.5

Notes from ESPN Stats & Information

Blackhawks

  • It’s the highly anticipated debut of 2023 No. 1 overall pick Connor Bedard as the Blackhawks officially turn the page from the days of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. There have been 12 No. 1 overall picks who scored a goal in their NHL debut, with the last being Auston Matthews who scored four times for the Maple Leafs on Oct. 12, 2016 at Ottawa. There have been four No. 1 overall picks to score a goal in their NHL debut that came against the Penguins: Gilbert Perreault (Sabres) on Oct. 10, 1970, Eric Lindros (Flyers) on Oct. 6, 1992, John Tavares (Islanders) on Oct. 10, 2009, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Oilers) on Oct. 9, 2011.

  • This game will likely feature three No. 1 overall picks: Bedard (2023), Sidney Crosby (2005) and Taylor Hall (2010, with Oilers). Bedard would be the third straight No. 1 pick to face another No. 1 pick in his NHL debut, following Montreal’s Juraj Slafkovsky (2022) and Buffalo’s Owen Power (2021), who each faced the Toronto tandem of John Tavares (2009, Islanders) and Auston Matthews (2016, Maple Leafs) in their debut. Bedard was born on July 17, 2005 — 13 days before Crosby was selected first overall by the Penguins in the 2005 Draft (July 30).

  • The Blackhawks had a minus-97 goal differential last season, which ranked 30th in the NHL and ahead of only the Columbus Blue Jackets (minus-116) and Anaheim Ducks (minus-129). Each of those three teams were the only teams to be minus-30 or worse in goal differential in each period last season. The Blackhawks were outshot in 60 of the 82 games last season; only the Ducks and Arizona Coyotes were outshot more frequently last season (69 each).

  • The returning Blackhawks player with the most points last season was Andreas Athanasiou, who had 40 points. His 20 goals was the second-highest total in his career, behind the 30 he scored for the Detroit Red Wings in 2018-19. Athanasiou and Taylor Raddysh co-led the Blackhawks with 20 goals.

  • Taylor Hall is entering his 14th season, and the Blackhawks are his fifth team since the start of the 2019-20 season (Devils, Coyotes, Sabres, Bruins). Last season, Hall’s 36 points were the second fewest in a season in his career (33 in 2020-21 split between Buffalo and Boston).


Penguins

  • Last season, the Penguins missed the playoffs for the second time in the Sidney Crosby era, and the first time since his rookie season in 2005-06. On the morning of March 14, the Penguins were in the first wild-card position and five points clear of a playoff spot. They proceeded to go 6-9-1 in their final 16 games, including a 5-2 loss at home to the Blackhawks and a 3-2 overtime loss at the Blue Jackets to end the season.

  • The big acquisition in the offseason was trading for defenseman Erik Karlsson, who finished with 101 points last season, the first 100-point season by a defenseman since Brian Leetch had 102 in 1991-92. Karlsson is just the sixth defenseman to record 100 points in a single season, joining Bobby Orr (six times), Paul Coffey (five times), Leetch, Al MacInnis and Denis Potvin — all of those players are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

  • Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are each set for their 18th campaign with Pittsburgh, surpassing Mario Lemieux (17) for the second most and behind Sidney Crosby, who is entering his 19th season. Crosby (1,190 games played), Malkin (1,063) and Letang (1,005) hold the top-three spots on the Penguins’ all-time list.

  • Among players with 500 career points, Crosby’s 1.26 points per game is eighth-highest in NHL history and trails only Connor McDavid (1.49) for highest among active players. Crosby has averaged 1.00 points per game or higher in all 18 seasons he’s played, which is one shy of tying Wayne Gretzky for the most seasons in NHL history. Malkin is tied for fourth on that list at 15 with Joe Sakic, Lemieux, Mark Messier, Ron Francis and Marcel Dionne (Gordie Howe is third with 17 seasons; minimum 20 games played per season).

  • Pittsburgh may be without Jake Guentzel at the start of the season following the winger’s ankle surgery. His 197 career goals are second behind Crosby’s 212 for the Penguins since Guentzel entered the NHL in 2016-17.

10:30 p.m. ET | Watch live on ESPN+
Line: VGK -170 | O/U: 6

Notes from ESPN Stats & Information

Kraken

  • The Kraken had a 40-point improvement from 2021-22 (60 points) to 2022-23 (100), which was second behind the New Jersey Devils (+49) for the largest point improvement last season. The Kraken’s improvement was the seventh-largest year-over-year improvement in seasons of equal length in NHL history. It was also the largest win (+19) and point improvement by an NHL team from their first to second season.

  • Seattle had 13 players score at least 10 goals last season, tied with the Oilers for the most in the NHL. Seattle’s six 20-goal scorers were tied with the Penguins, Maple Leafs, Devils, Stars and Senators for most in the NHL. For context, Jared McCann‘s team-leading 70 points was tied for 59th in the NHL last season.

  • McCann was the third player in the last 40 years to score 40 goals in a team’s first or second season, joining William Karlsson‘s 43 with the 2017-18 Golden Knights and Brian Bradley’s 42 with the 1992-93 Lightning. McCann’s 30 goals at 5-on-5 were fourth in the NHL behind David Pastrnak (34), Mikko Rantanen (32) and Connor McDavid (32).

  • According to Stathletes, the defensive pairing of Adam Larsson and Vince Dunn played 1,342 minutes together at 5-on-5 in the 2022-23 regular season, the most of any pair in the NHL. Among the 54 defensive pairs that played 500 minutes or more together at 5-on-5, their on-ice goals per 60 minutes rate was 3.62, in a virtual tie for third with New Jersey’s Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Siegenthaler, behind Erik KarlssonJaycob Megna (4.03, Sharks) and Roman JosiRyan McDonagh (3.86, Predators).

  • Matty Beniers took home the Calder Trophy last season as NHL’s Rookie of the Year. Beniers co-led all rookies with 24 goals last season with Stars forward Wyatt Johnson, and his 57 points were the most among rookies. His 18 multi-point games were the most by any rookie last season.


Golden Knights

  • The Golden Knights became the seventh franchise in NHL history to require six or fewer seasons to win their first Stanley Cup. The only clubs to do so were the Maple Leafs (1918 as Arenas; first season), Montreal Maroons (1926; second season), Rangers (1928; second season), original Ottawa Senators (1920; third season), Bruins (1929; fifth season) and Oilers (1984; fifth season). The Golden Knights were the first true post-expansion team (since 1967-68) to win the Cup so quickly. The Oilers were absorbed in from 1979-80 after the WHA folded.

  • Vegas won the Stanley Cup even though it used fiver different goalies during the regular season, the first team to do so since the 1989-90 Oilers. They were just the second team to make it to the Stanley Cup Final after using five goalies in the regular season, with none having played 40 games, joining the 2009-10 Philadelphia Flyers (who lost to the Blackhawks).

  • Jack Eichel led the Golden Knights with 66 points last season, tied for 70th in the NHL. The Golden Knights joined the 2002-03 Devils as the only teams in NHL history to win a Stanley Cup without having a player finish in the top 60 in points that regular season.

  • Adin Hill took over the Vegas goal in the postseason when Laurent Brossoit was injured in the second round. Hill went 11-4 in 16 postseason appearances and became the first goaltender in NHL history to earn 11 wins in a single postseason after not playing in the team’s opening round. Hill finished the 2023 playoffs with a .932 save percentage, the fifth-highest save percentage in a single playoff year among goalies in their first postseason appearance (minimum 12 games played).

  • After missing 39 regular-season games because of back surgery, captain Mark Stone returned in the playoffs with 24 points in 22 playoff games. He became the third player in Stanley Cup Playoffs history with a hat trick in a Cup-clinching win, following Babe Dye in 1922 for the Toronto St. Patricks and Jack Darragh in 1920 for the original Ottawa Senators.



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