NASHVILLE - It was an offseason of change in the Central Division that led to it becoming arguably the toughest division in the NHL.
The Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators, two teams that underwent big changes, will square off Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena in an important early-season division game.
Dallas is coming off of a 3-2 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night, while the Predators completed a 3-2 comeback win against the Ottawa Senators. It will be the second straight division game to open the season for the Stars.
“These games are the first ones of the year, but they’re going to mean a lot coming down the stretch,” Stars center Jason Spezza said. “To open against two divisional teams makes it important points for us.”
Nashville’s first game in the Peter Laviolette era was a success, and now the Predators will face their first Central opponent of the season after finishing sixth in the division last season.
“It’s always good when you’re playing in your division,” new Predators forward James Neal said. “Dallas is coming off of a loss in their home-opener so they’re going to be hungry tonight. We want to make this building tough to play in, so it’s going to be a good test for both teams tonight.”
Anders Lindback will be in goal tonight, making his first start as a member of the Stars. He is looking forward to making an impact with his new team after a disappointing stint in Tampa Bay.
“I’m really excited for the opportunity,” Lindback said. “It’s a new start for me. I want to show all my teammates, coaches and the whole organization that I want to be a difference-maker here and help out.”
Meanwhile, Taylor Beck will make his season debut for the Predators, replacing Rich Clune on a line with Paul Gaustad and Eric Nystrom. Beck signed a one-year contract with the Predators during training camp and comes into this season with a lot to prove. He’s looking forward to making an impact at the NHL level after floating back and forth between the AHL and NHL over the past two seasons.
“I’m playing with two guys that play hard so hopefully it fits my game well,” Beck said. “We can do a lot of work down in the offensive zone. I’m looking forward to it.”
It looks like Patrick Eaves and Kevin Connauton will be out of the lineup tonight for the Stars while Jamie Oleksiak will be in. Erik Cole joined Spezza and Ales Hemsky on the second line for Dallas at morning skate after Eaves was in that spot for the opener.
Nashville’s top three lines will be the same as they were Thursday against Ottawa. Predators forward Viktor Stalberg was taken off of injured reserve and is now listed as day-to-day. He participated fully in the morning skate but will not be in the lineup. Victor Bartley will be the odd-man out in Nashville’s defensive corps.
Here are the projected lineups:
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Valeri Nichuskin
Erik Cole – Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Ryan Garbutt
Shawn Horcoff – Vernon Fiddler – Colton Sceviour
Alex Goligoski – Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn – Brenden Dillon
Patrik Nemeth – Jamie Oleksiak
Scratched: Patrick Eaves, Kevin Connauton
Injured: Sergei Gonchar
Gabriel Bourque – Mike Ribeiro – James Neal
Filip Forsberg – Derek Roy – Craig Smith
Colin Wilson – Calle Jarnkrok – Olli Jokinen
Eric Nystrom – Paul Gaustad – Taylor Beck
Roman Josi – Shea Weber
Anton Volchenkov – Seth Jones
Mattias Ekholm – Ryan Ellis
Scratched: Rich Clune, Colton Sissions, Victor Bartley
Injured: Matt Cullen, Mike Fisher, Viktor Stalberg
Who’s hot: Cody Eakin scored his first goal of the season for the Stars on Thursday. Filip Forsberg recorded two assists for the Predators on Thursday and was on the ice for all three Nashville goals in the third period.