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Opening Week: What to Watch For

by Thomas Willis / Nashville Predators

“It’s finally hockey season.” You’ve probably found yourself saying that a few times already this week. And it’s only Monday.

While it’s true that Thursday’s game between the Ottawa Senators and Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena brings a level of finality to the summer, with the dramatic overhaul the Preds underwent this offseason, there’s still a predominate “new” feeling surrounding the team. A new head coach at the helm, five free agents signed in July and a fresh brand of hockey on the ice, the start of the 2014-15 feels unlike any other previous campaign over the Predators 17 years of existence.

With such a momentous week beginning, here are three things to watch for as the puck drops on the Preds first two home games. 

New Coach, Players and System:

Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette will manage his initial game with the Preds on Thursday night, the first time in franchise history that Barry Trotz hasn’t stood behind the bench. A Stanley Cup winner who also holds a 9-5 record in postseason series, Laviolette’s aggressive offensive system will aim to push the Preds back into the playoffs for the first time in three years.

Look for four Predators skaters to join the offensive zone cycle whenever possible, and for the team to try and force their opponent to make mistakes from the added pressure. The noticeable change in style of play on the ice will only be made more apparent by the new Nashville players helping to carry it out. Forwards James Neal, Mike Ribeiro, Olli Jokinen and Derek Roy all boast 80-point seasons on their resumes and the quartet bring a level of skill and scoring ability that’s been missing for the Predators lineup recently.

David Legwand Returns:

The Predators first home game of the season will also have a sense of nostalgia to it, thanks to the return of long-time Nashville forward David Legwand. The club’s first-ever draft pick, who skated with the team for 15 seasons, amassed 210 goals and 566 points over that span. Traded to the Detroit Red Wings for forward Calle Jarnkrok and a second-round draft pick in March, Legwand signed a two-year deal with the Senators this offseason. Later this week, he’ll make his first trip to the Music City as a member of the Predators’ opposition. Watch for Legwand to be used at center in a defensive role against Nashville’s top-six forward group. (Photo Credit: Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/Ottawa Senators Hockey Club)

Dallas Rivalry:

One of the Predators toughest divisional foes last season, the Dallas Stars roll into Nashville on Saturday night. The contest will be Laviolette’s first time coaching a Western Conference team against an inter-conference opponent in his career, and the game promises to be higher scoring than most of the previous matchups. The Stars also bolstered their offensive punch this summer by trading for center Jason Spezza and inking Ales Hemsky, additions that should only increase their chances of making the playoffs again in 2014-15. The Predators won both home games against the Stars last season, but managed only one point in three contests in Dallas for a 2-2-1 record. The Stars finished three points ahead of the Predators in last year’s standings (Dallas claimed the second and final Wild Card spot) and the five games between the two sides will be very important in determining postseason qualification for both clubs in 2014-15.

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