The 2022/23 NHL season begins for the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks in Prague, Czech Republic as they play a pair of games on Friday and Saturday as part of the NHL Global Series.
Both fixtures take place at the O2 Arena which is home to HC Sparta Prague of the Czech Extraliga and is the second-largest ice hockey arena in Europe holding 17,383 for ice hockey games.
Nashville are -192 to win on Friday and -170 to be victorious on Saturday, while San Jose are +167 and +150 respectively.
|What||NHL Season 2022/23|
|Where||USA, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland|
|When||October 7th 2022 - June 2023|
|How to watch||ESPN+, Star+, NHL.TV & bet365's Sports Live Streaming|
COL Avalanche +425, TOR Maple Leafs +800, FLA Panthers +900, TB Lightning +1000, CAR Hurricanes +1100
Nashville enjoyed a clean sweep of three wins over San Jose last season outscoring them 12-1. The Predators shut out the Sharks in the final two games, including a blowout 8-0 victory which helped them to a 45-30-7 record and a Wild Card spot into the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Sharks ended the season with a 32-37-13 record and missed the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
With six assists, defenceman Roman Josi led all players for points in the three-game series between the pair and will again be looked upon to produce in Prague.
The 32-year-old enjoyed a sensational 2021/22 campaign amassing a career-high 96 points (23 goals, 73 assists) in 80 games and was second in Norris Trophy Voting for the NHL's best defenceman, behind Colorado Avalanche's Cale Makar.
Josi enjoyed a hero's welcome back in his hometown arena on Monday as the Predators beat Switzerland's SC Bern 4-3 the NHL Global Series Challenge.
It was Nashville's fourth win in five pre-season games which has included victories over the Presidents' Trophy winning Florida Panthers and twice over three-time consecutive Stanley Cup finalists Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Sharks also won four of their five pre-season games beating Pacific Division rivals Los Angeles Kings twice, Anaheim Ducks and Vegas Golden Knights.
The exhibition form will be a welcome boost for the Sharks and new coach David Quinn after they lost 14 of their last 17 games to end last season.
Long-time general Manager Doug Wilson stepped down from his position as General Manager of the Sharks in April and he was replaced by 47-year-old Mike Grier.
He then hired former New York Ranger Quinn to lead the team, replacing Bob Boughner who was fired.
Quinn went 98-87-25 with the Rangers from 2018-21 but lost his job as expectations quickly rose and he wasn't able to get them into the playoffs.
On the ice, the Sharks said goodbye to popular defenceman Brent Burns who had spent 11 seasons with the franchise.
At 37, the record holder for most points by a Sharks blue-liner moved to the Carolina Hurricanes in hope of a genuine opportunity of winning an elusive Stanley Cup.
In response, the Sharks added veteran defence pair Markus Nutivaara and Matt Benning and also brought in forwards Oskar Lindblom, Luke Kunin, Nico Sturm and Steven Lorentz, giving Quinn more depth than a San Jose coach has enjoyed for some time.
The Predators weren't quite as active in the off-season but carried out some crucial business, headlined by the eight-year re-signing of their all-time leading goal-scorer Filip Forsberg.
Forsberg registered 84 points (42 goals, 42 assists) in 69 games last season which took his all-time tally to 469 points (220 goals, 249 assists) in 566 regular season games.
Predators General Manager David Poile also made significant signings from free-agency, adding and two-time Stanley Cup Champion Ryan McDonagh from the Tampa Bay Lightning to his defence and productive forward Nino Niederreiter from the Carolina Hurricanes to his attack.
The Predators conceded 3.5 average goals per-game last season (16th in the NHL) and scored an average of 3.2 goals-per-game last season (13th) and the pair will most likely help make improvements in both categories.
On the opposite side, San Jose scored 2.57 average goals per-game (30th) and conceded 3.18 (21st) last season. With just two teams scoring less, their focus heading into the series with the Predators will clearly be on generating more offence.
To do so, they will heavily rely on Captain Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, and Timo Meier to re-produce and better their 88 goal, 108 assists combined season and for fit again defenceman Erik Karlsson to re-discover his twice winning Norris Trophy offensive form.
Free agency signings Sturm, Svechnikov and Kunin will also be expected to contribute.
While not too much can be read into pre-season form, both teams appear to have improved from last season.
But while the Sharks will be desperate to get off to a good start under new coach Quinn, it will be a tall order against a Predators side who got the better of them all last season and in McDonagh and Niederreiter made the most impressive acquisitions in the off-season.
Nashville goalie Juuse Saros is a cut-above either James Remier or Kaapo Kahkonen of the Sharks, who despite being steady defensively and making some shrewd depth additions will struggle to contain the world-class talents of Josi, Forsberg and 43-goal-scorer last season Matt Duchene among others.