The Nashville Predators begin their quest for a third consecutive Central Division title on Thursday night when they host the Minnesota Wild in the season opener for both teams.
Nashville finished with 100 points in the 2018-19 season to edge the Winnipeg Jets and the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, both of whom had 99 points.
The Predators, who advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, were bounced after six games in the first round by the Dallas Stars this past spring.
"We were a good team last year," defenseman Ryan Ellis told The Tennessean. "We've been a good team for the last couple of years. We expect nothing less than getting better every year. We haven't fulfilled our ultimate goal, but overall it just seems like we came to play each year."
The Predators made a splash in the offseason, trading former Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban to New Jersey to cut salary costs before signing free-agent center Matt Duchene to a seven-year, $56 million contract. The addition of Duchene is expected to add some punch toma power play that finished last in the NHL in 2018-19.
Duchene, who was the third overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft by Colorado, has 232 goals and 315 assists in 727 regular-season games. The 28-year-old is coming off a season in which he scored a career-high 31 goals and totaled 70 points.
Nashville opens the season by playing four straight and 10 of its first 14 games at Bridgestone Arena, where it compiled a 25-14-2 mark last season. The Predators capped a 5-1-0 preseason with a 2-1 overtime victory over Carolina on Friday with center Ryan Johansen netting the winning goal.
"For sure, we should be feeling good about ourselves," Johansen told NHL.com. "Obviously it's preseason, and Game 1 starts Thursday, but we should be proud of the way we worked, the way we prepared all summer and be feeling pretty good about ourselves."
Minnesota posted a 37-36-9 record last season, but its 83 points put it at the bottom of the ultra-competitive Central Division. The Wild finished seven points out of the final Western Conference wild-card spot to snap a six-year playoff run.
The Wild fired general manager Paul Fenton on July 30 after a 14-month stint and replaced him with Bill Guerin, who won two Stanley Cups as a player and two more in the front office with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Bruce Boudreau returns for his fourth season as head coach.
Minnesota, which opens the season with three straight road contests, went 2-1-3 during a preseason that was highlighted by the return of captain Mikko Koivu (right ACL) and defenseman Matt Dumba (ruptured right pectoralis muscle) from season-ending surgeries.
Dumba was playing at an All-Star level with 12 goals and 10 assists in 32 games prior to his injury, while Koivu scored eight goals and set up 21 others in 48 games before going down in February.
"It just adds a different dynamic to our roster with those two guys healthy and playing," forward Zach Parise told minnesotahockeymag.com.
The Wild will start the season without defenseman Greg Pateryn, who is expected to miss six weeks after bilateral core muscle repair surgery.