It’s opening night! What to watch in Rangers-Lightning, Kings-Knights

    Kristen Shilton is a national NHL reporter for ESPN.

The 2022-23 NHL regular season has finally arrived, with an opening night doubleheader on ESPN and ESPN+.

Tuesday’s action includes a rematch of the 2022 Eastern Conference finals between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers (7:30 p.m. ET), and a nightcap between the Vegas Golden Knights and Los Angeles Kings.

Before you get settled in, catch up on storylines to monitor, players worth tracking and what questions still need answers.

Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Rangers

7:30 p.m. ET | Watch live on ESPN+
Line: New York -115 | Over/under: 5.5

The last time these teams met was four months ago to the day: Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals at Amalie Arena. The Rangers were fighting to stay alive after blowing a 2-0 series lead. New York won those two first games by a combined score of 9-4. They netted four goals in the three games that followed. The Rangers had to stave off elimination to take the Lightning back home, but Game 7 would never come. New York lost 2-1 that night in Tampa, and the Lightning advanced to their third straight Stanley Cup Final.

The drama? We’re here for it. And this game will also feature two of the league’s top-tier netminders in Russian countrymen Andrei Vasilevskiy and Igor Shesterkin.

New York finally has Tampa back in their building to launch the NHL regular season into high gear. Will revenge be on the opening night menu?

ESPN Power Rankings: 7th
2021-22 results: 51-23-8 (110 points), lost in Stanley Cup Final
Stanley Cup odds: + 1,000

Dawn of a new era: Tampa has been the NHL’s gold standard in recent years, earning back-to-back Stanley Cups and nearly completing a three-peat last spring before falling in six games to the Colorado Avalanche. The Lightning couldn’t keep the entire band together, though: Ondrej Palat left in free agency and Ryan McDonagh was traded to Nashville. That leaves major voids — on and off the ice — for Tampa to fill. It also presents key opportunities for other players to get involved.

Vladislav Namestnikov — who signed a one-year, $2.5 million free agent deal in July — finished Tampa Bay’s preseason with a hat trick in the Lightning’s only exhibition victory. Brandon Hagel and Nick Paul project to earn more offensive responsibility, too. And Mikhail Sergachev, who just signed an eight-year, $68 million extension, will be spotlighted on the back end (where Zach Bogosian will be missed as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery). It’ll be fascinating to see how the pieces fit together.

Soaring Steven Stamkos: The Lightning captain is coming off a career-best season in which he exceeded the 100-point mark for the first time ever (106). Not bad for a 32-year-old, right? So can Stamkos channel that energy into this new season? Tampa coach Jon Cooper talked about Stamkos playing with a “free spirit” and a “free mind,” which aided his overall production. There was nothing to hold him back. Tampa Bay needs more of that performance now, because the Lightning offense might be in flux for a few weeks while Anthony Cirelli continues rehabbing from his summertime shoulder surgery.

Stamkos is versatile and consistent, and picking up where he left off last season would be a major boon to get the Lightning on a roll.

Is Brayden Point back? Point injured a quadriceps muscle in Game 7 of the Lightning’s first-round playoff series against Toronto last spring. He didn’t play again until Game 1 of the Cup Final, was pulled from Game 2, and would not dress again. Point’s body wasn’t where it needed to be, and the Lightning suffered without one of their most dynamic playmakers.

Having Point back to start the season is crucial. He used the exhibition schedule to get his skating back up to speed and restore confidence post-injury by getting involved along the boards and around the net. That’s where Tampa Bay will want to see him — and often — against the Rangers.

ESPN Power Rankings: 5th
2021-22 results: 52-24-6 (110 points), lost in Eastern Conference finals
Stanley Cup odds: + 1,500

Back in the saddle: How much the Rangers’ conference finals loss to Tampa Bay still stings should be obvious early. It’s natural for New York to bear a chip on its shoulder after how that series unfurled. Now those emotions can resurface. What might it do for the tenor of this NHL opener?

New York was ultimately outplayed months ago by a better team. The Rangers might have overachieved by reaching that point. But it’s hard to think of New York as any sort of underdog right now. The Rangers have the talent — both established and up-and-coming — to push teams like Tampa Bay. Does that energy come through in Game 1?

Climbing Kaapo Kakko: New York appears to have a rising star ready to soar in Kakko. The 21-year-old played his final two preseason games on the Rangers’ top line with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, and he looked like he belonged. Like, scored three goals in two games and oozed confidence while doing it, belonged.

Does the “it’s only exhibition” caveat apply? Sure. But Kakko’s strong overall camp shouldn’t be discounted. He was equally solid playing on New York’s aptly named Kid Line in the postseason with Alexis Lafreniere and Filip Chytil. That versatility gives coach Gerard Gallant room to maneuver as the season gets going. And seeing Kakko start his climb toward a breakout season Tuesday night wouldn’t hurt the Rangers’ lineup.

Tracking Trocheck: The Rangers didn’t undergo some huge makeover between meetings with the Lightning. New York lost a few pieces from that springtime run — including Andrew Copp, Ryan Strome and Frank Vatrano — and took one big swing of their own, signing veteran forward Vincent Trocheck to a seven-year, $39.375 million deal. Trocheck’s transition to the Big Apple hasn’t been completely seamless. He’s slotted into Strome’s old spot alongside Artemi Panarin, and the new teammates’ timing hasn’t totally come together.

Trocheck is figuring out a new system for the first time in three years and also attempting to keep up with New York’s perennial leading scorer in Panarin. Given the investment the Rangers made in Trocheck, they’ll want to keep the experiment going — ideally with better results once the games count in the standings.

Vegas Golden Knights at Los Angeles Kings

10 p.m. ET | Watch live on ESPN+
Line: Los Angeles -115 | Over/under: 6

If opposites attract, then the Golden Knights and Kings would be a perfect match.

The Golden Knights are a veteran-laden, salary-cap-strapped squad in win-now mode despite missing the playoffs last season. The Kings are youthful, exciting and maturing before our eyes after pushing their way into a postseason berth last May and taking the Edmonton Oilers to seven games in the first round.

The Pacific Division competition will be tougher than ever with the Calgary Flames going all-in this offseason and the Vancouver Canucks pushing to regain their postseason form. What sort of preview will Vegas and L.A. offer of what this season holds for them?

Golden Knights
ESPN Power Rankings: 15th
2021-22 results: 43-31-8 (94 points), missed playoffs
Stanley Cup odds: + 1,800

All eyes on Eichel: The Golden Knights haven’t seen the best of Jack Eichel yet. Vegas acquired Eichel via trade from the Buffalo Sabres in November, and following neck surgery later that month, the 25-year-old made his black-and-gold debut in February. Eichel had a respectable end to the season with 14 goals and 25 points in 34 games, but it wasn’t enough to single-handedly save Vegas from floundering to the finish.

What impact can a healthy offseason have on Eichel in Year 2? He already put together a terrific preseason performance, registering nine points in three games. Vegas has to hope that’s a sign of things to come. And Eichel, who has never played in a postseason game, should be thinking the same.

Newbie in net: Vegas wasn’t expecting incumbent starting goaltender Robin Lehner to require hip surgery that would sideline him the entire season. But them’s the breaks. The question then became whether veteran Laurent Brossoit or up-and-comer Logan Thompson would be Lehner’s replacement.

Well, Brossoit had hip surgery, too, leaving coach Bruce Cassidy to shuffle between Thompson and Adin Hill. It has been Thompson’s net to lose. The 25-year-old will take what he learned from backing up Lehner last season (when he went 10-5-3 with a .914 save percentage and 2.68 goals-against average) and apply it to the nightly gig. Who knows what might happen when Brossoit is back, but for now the spotlight rests solely on Thompson.

Betting on Bruce: Speaking of newbies, Cassidy is one, too. He came on board in the offseason after being fired by Boston, and is the third coach these Golden Knights have had since their inception in 2017-18. What sort of tricks does Cassidy have up his sleeve to steer Vegas back toward the playoffs? The Golden Knights’ salary cap issues have been well documented, and they lost the likes of Max Pacioretty and Evgenii Dadonov because of them. But there is still a solid well of talent in Vegas’ ranks. It’s on Cassidy to maximize what’s available.

That will be especially challenging on the defensive side for Vegas, where over-30s Alex Pietrangelo and Alec Martinez, plus Shea Theodore (27), highlight the team’s back-end core. Vegas has no time to waste turning things around, putting pressure on Cassidy from Game 1.

ESPN Power Rankings: 18th
2021-22 results: 44-27-11 (99 points), lost in first round
Stanley Cup odds: + 2,500

Fiala fever: The Kings had their struggles scoring goals last season, averaging just 2.87 per game through top-heavy contributions from mostly Adrian Kempe (35 goals), Phillip Danault (27), Viktor Arvidsson (20) and Anze Kopitar (19). How does a team improve its depth in that department? Trades, baby.

Los Angeles acquired Kevin Fiala from the Minnesota Wild in June and immediately signed the forward — fresh off a 33-goal season — to a seven-year, $55 million contract. Fiala has been a consistent threat for much of his career and should be a firecracker for the Kings up front. He fit in well during the preseason, and showed sparks of chemistry, especially with Kempe. Fiala will be counted on even more when there’s real points up for grabs.

Growing their games: Los Angeles has been lauded for its prospect depth and fine collection of young talent. Mikey Anderson and Sean Durzi are the latter. Both blueliners project to play important roles for L.A. defensively this season after showing terrific growth and maturation throughout the past year.

Anderson is an effective stay-at-home defender who has been a great complement to Drew Doughty on the Kings’ top pairing. Durzi returned later in the preseason following offseason shoulder surgery, and has earned time between the Kings’ second and third units. He should also fill a sizable slot on L.A.’s power play after excelling there last season. The Kings have long valued a hard-hitting, physical defense, and both Anderson and Durzi can bring that with a side of skill and creativity. And at only 23 years old, these skaters have just begun to show off their full potential.

Keep up with Quick: Jonathan Quick has been counted out before. The 36-year-old goaltender continues proving the doubters wrong. Quick helped carry Los Angeles into the playoffs last season with a 12-3-3 push to the finish. Once there, the veteran gave his club every chance to get past Edmonton in the first round, with a .904 save percentage over seven games.

What more does Quick have in the tank this season? Only a few players remain for Los Angeles from their Cup-winning teams in 2012 and 2014. Quick was an integral part of those runs and has maintained a high level of play since, even while Los Angeles has undergone appreciable turnover. If the Kings intend to challenge for a top-three spot in the Pacific, they’ll need the right goalie to rely on. Quick can quickly show he’s still up for the job.

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