What to watch for in NHL's opening night tripleheader: Bedard vs. Crosby takes center stage

The NHL is back, and there will be plenty to chew on in the first three games of the year.

The NHL season officially gets underway on Tuesday with a manageable three-game slate that could make for an appealing TV watching marathon.

We're not suggesting you sit down for seven-and-a-half hours of straight hockey, but it would be an understandable move after months of puck withdrawal (or just days, depending on how preseason action sits with you).

No matter how much time you want to sink into the opening-night games, it's worth having a little background on them.

Below you'll find a few things to watch for in each of Tuesday's matchups.

Nashville Predators vs. Tampa Bay Lightning — 5:30 p.m. EST/2:30 p.m. PST

Ryan O'Reilly has a big test ahead of him this NHL season as Nashville's 1C. (George Walker IV/AP)
Ryan O'Reilly has a big test ahead of him this NHL season as Nashville's 1C. (George Walker IV/AP)

Can Ryan O'Reilly hold up as a top center?

The Predators signed O'Reilly with the idea that he would be their top-line center, playing alongside the team's best offensive weapon in Filip Forsberg.

O'Reilly has size and smarts, but he's undoubtedly slowing down as he enters his age-32 season. His 2022-23 campaign included his worst scoring rate since he was 19 (0.57 points/game) and he didn't finish in the top five in Selke Trophy voting for the first time in four years.

After joining the Toronto Maple Leafs in a mid-season trade last year, he spent more of his time as a third-line center — albeit one who produced at an impressive clip.

The Lightning have two excellent centers in Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli who will test O'Reilly all night.

How will Tampa Bay weather the storm of Andrei Vasilevskiy's absence?

The Lightning have been heavily reliant on their star goaltender in recent years, and all eyes will be on Jonas Johansson, his little-known interim replacement, during the season opener.

Johansson is coming off a strong AHL campaign, but his brief NHL resume is far from spotless.

One game won't make or break Johansson, but the spotlight will be squarely on his shoulders after a relatively anonymous start to his NHL career.

Will the Lightning's second line falter without Alex Killorn?

The combination of Point, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos is absolutely lethal, but part of what's driven Tampa Bay's offense lately has been the combination of Killorn and Cirelli on the second unit. When Brandon Hagel joined that mix for the duration of 2022-23, both wingers had career years.

Killorn left for Anaheim in free agency, and now Hagel and Cirelli will try to make hay with Conor Sheary alongside them. Sheary is no slouch, but he is a downgrade.

This new-look second line will be counted on to provide plenty of offense in support of Point's group, and it will be interesting to see if they get off to a strong start.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Pittsburgh Penguins — 8:00 p.m. EST/5:00 p.m. PST

Sidney Crosby vs. Connor Bedard

This will be the highlight of opening night. Crosby remains one of the best centers in the league and fans want to see him go toe-to-toe with Bedard — who has looked impressive in the preseason.

Crosby makes life difficult on his opponents and has a size advantage on Bedard, but the rookie hasn't gotten man-handled in his first action against NHL stars.

Every shift these two are on the ice together will be closely scrutinized. The age gap here means we probably won't see a rivalry develop between these two generational talents, but for one night this matchup will get some much-deserved love.

How does Erik Karlsson fit?

The Penguins made a massive splash in the offseason by trading for Karlsson, and the Norris Trophy winner brings unbelievable raw skill to their blue line.

How he'll fit with the pieces around him is more of an open question, as his puck-dominant style may take some getting used to for his teammates. His presence could also limit offensive opportunities for longtime top defenseman Kris Letang.

We know Karlsson is capable of producing some outstanding highlights, but he's less certain to look like a piece of a cohesive whole with Pittsburgh.

What about Pittsburgh's other new faces?

A lot has changed for the Penguins since their disappointing 2022-23 season, and there will be no shortage of new faces for their fan base to evaluate.

Outside of Karlsson, Reilly Smith is the most well-known new player, but Ryan Graves will have a top-four role on defense and the bottom-six forward group will include imports like Lars Eller, Noel Acciari, and Matt Nieto.

Incoming president and general manager Kyle Dubas hasn't done anything radical with franchise icons like Crosby, Letang and Evgeni Malkin, but he's made his mark elsewhere on the roster.

Seattle Kraken vs. Vegas Golden Knights — 10:30 p.m. EST/7:30 p.m. PST

Ivan Barbashev is entering his first full season as a Golden Knight. (David Becker/NHLI via Getty Images)
Ivan Barbashev is entering his first full season as a Golden Knight. (David Becker/NHLI via Getty Images)

Which Ivan Barbashev have the Golden Knights signed up for?

The Barbashev the Golden Knights traded for midway through 2022-23 and the one they got were very different players — in the best possible way for Vegas.

After a disappointing start to the season with the St. Louis Blues, Barbashev came alive in Vegas, both in terms of offensive production and physical play.

That helped him earn a five-year contract worth $25 million. Now that he helped Vegas complete its mission in 2022-23 and secured the bag for himself, it'll be intriguing to track his progress.

We won't learn anything definitive from one game, but we'll get a sense of if he's still playing with his hair on fire.

Is Matty Beniers looking like a player ready to take the next step?

As it stands, the Kraken are a deep team with a surplus of good players, but very little star power. Beniers won the Calder Trophy last season, and he's the guy best-positioned to fill that void for Seattle.

Considering he still hasn't turned 21, there's reason to believe his game has plenty of room to grow — and he has a platform on Tuesday to demonstrate his ascent is continuing.

From an X's and O's standpoint, the Golden Knights present a stiff challenge for Beniers, as they have three strong centers to throw at him in Jack Eichel, Chandler Stephenson, and William Karlsson.

What will the Stanley Cup celebration look like at T-Mobile Arena?

Las Vegas is arguably the world capital of showmanship, and this team is already known for its pregame theatrics.

The Golden Knights already did plenty to celebrate their Cup win, but their game ops department hasn't been able to take its shot just yet.

T-Mobile Arena tends to provide an over-the-top experience, and having a championship win to recognize should be rocket fuel for this barn.