The Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils finished with the two best records in the Eastern Conference last season and are expected to make a run for the Stanley Cup in 2010-11.
Neither looked like championship contenders in their openers, however.
The Capitals and Devils, both still smarting from first-round playoff losses, try to bounce back from disappointing defeats when they meet Saturday night in Washington's home opener.
Led by two-time MVP Alex Ovechkin, Washington scored a league-high 318 goals last season en route to winning the franchise's first Presidents' Trophy, but the high-powered offense fell in seven games to Montreal, and never got in gear Friday.
Playing an Atlanta team they had defeated eight straight times, the Capitals were limited to one goal on 15 shots through the first two periods and fell 4-2.
"We did not play our game at all," said Ovechkin, who had eight shots without a goal.
The game was overshadowed by a scary moment just 2 1/2 minutes in, when Thrashers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec fell over backward during a stoppage. He was treated for about 10 minutes on the ice before being wheeled off on a stretcher and taken to a hospital, where he was listed in stable condition after regaining consciousness.
Washington scored less than a minute after play resumed, but didn't get another goal for another 45 minutes. It is now in danger of opening a season with consecutive losses for the first time since 1996-97.
"They know they have to play better if they want to succeed, it's not like it's their first game together," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "(Saturday) we'll be at home and we'll be ready."
The Capitals hope to turn things around at the Verizon Center, where they were 30-5-6 last season and have won eight straight home openers.
Coming off a playoff series loss in five games to eventual East champion Philadelphia, the Devils also fell in their first game of the new season against a seemingly overmatched team, 4-3 in overtime to Dallas on Friday.
New Jersey got off to a fast start in front of the home crowd by scoring twice in just over seven minutes of play, but was unable to put away the rebuilding Stars. The Devils also looked a little sloppy, as Stars right wing Loui Eriksson intercepted a pass and skated the length of the ice to beat Martin Brodeur 1:36 into the extra session.
"We can be much better," Ilya Kovalchuk told the Devils' official website. "We can definitely spend more time in their zone than our zone, and we can't give up those goals in overtime."
Although New Jersey finished with 18 fewer points than the Capitals in 2009-10, the Devils went 3-1-0 in the season series. Ovechkin missed two of those losses with an upper-body strain, but had a goal and four assists in the other two.
Brodeur was in goal for each game against the Capitals last season, recording a 2.45 goals-against average. The four-time Vezina Trophy winner, who extended his own NHL record of consecutive season-opening starts by a goalie with one team to 16 on Friday, is 12-3-0 with a 2.49 GAA in 15 games in this series since the 2005-06 season.