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Eight games on eve of regular season

by Adam Schwartz
The NHL's regular season gets under way Saturday with a pair of games in Europe, but for those rabid hockey fans who can't wait that long, there are eight preseason games Friday night.

At 7 p.m. EST, the Minnesota Wild visit the Columbus Blue Jackets, the New Jersey Devils host the New York Islanders and the Philadelphia Flyers face the Washington Capitals. A half-hour later, the Atlanta Thrashers host the Nashville Predators and the Toronto Maple Leafs battle the Detroit Red Wings.

Three late games feature the Chicago Blackhawks against the Colorado Avalanche, a preseason version of the battle of Alberta when the Calgary Flames host the Edmonton Oilers and a Pacific Division showdown between the Phoenix Coyotes and the Anaheim Ducks.

Here's what to watch:

* Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire has been the only coach in the Wild's eight seasons in the League. Lemaire, who was part of eight Stanley Cup-winning teams in his 12-season career with the Montreal Canadiens and won another Cup as New Jersey's coach in 1995, has kept the Wild's record at .500 or better every season since 2001-02.

* The Blue Jackets, who finished in No. 13 in the Western Conference last season, acquired six new key players by July 2. Included in that roster makeover was the addition of four-time 20-goal scorer Kristian Huselius, who should improve an offense that scored just 193 goals last season.

* New Jersey left wing Zach Parise, who is playing alongside Travis Zajac and captain Jamie Langenbrunner, led the Devils with 65 points last season and is tied for second in the League with 4 preseason goals.

* Islanders right wing Trent Hunter, who has two 20-goal seasons in his four in the League, led the Atlantic Division with 256 hits last season.

* The Flyers, who led the Atlantic Division with 248 goals last season, had the No. 2 power play in the League with a 21.8-percent success rate and featured seven 20-goal scorers.

* Washington center Nicklas Backstrom, who was a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the League's best rookie, led the team and had the second-most assists among Southeast Division players with 55.

* Nashville defenseman Shea Weber, who had 6 goals in 54 games last season, has 2 in four preseason games. Weber, who re-signed with Nashville for another three seasons this summer, had a minus rating for the first time in his career last season (minus-6).

* Red Wings right wing Mikael Samuelsson, who had 8 assists and 13 points in the playoffs en route to Detroit's Stanley Cup victory, is tied for the preseason League lead with 3 power-play goals.

* Chicago center Jonathan Toews, who missed 16 games with a sprained knee last season, still finished third among rookies with 54 points in 64 games. Toews, who was named team captain this summer, has 3 assists and 5 points in six preseason games.

* Edmonton right wing Ales Hemsky, who led the team with 51 assists last season, has had at least 40 assists in each of the last three seasons. Hemsky, drafted No. 13 in the 2001 Entry Draft, has led the Oilers in scoring the last three seasons.

* Colorado center Paul Stastny, who had a plus-2 rating in his rookie season in 2006-07, had a plus-22 rating last season. Stastny, who is the son of Hall of Famer Peter Stastny, led the Avalanche with 71 points last season despite missing 16 games.

* Flames left wing David Moss, who has played 82 games with Calgary in the past two seasons, is tied for second in League with 4 preseason goals.

* The Coyotes have a 1-4-1 preseason record, but have not lost by more than two goals in any game. Phoenix, which hasn't made the playoffs since 2002 and never has won a playoff series in Phoenix, hopes to end that drought this season.

* Anaheim, which has lost just one game in regulation this preseason, has scored just two more goals than it has surrendered. The Ducks, who were one of just three teams in the Western Conference with at least 100 points last season, lost just four games in which they scored first last season.

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