San Jose at Tampa Bay - 5 PM
Minnesota at Colorado - 8 PM
Game of the Night
These teams were once frequently found at the bottom of the league's standings. Times have changed though, as the Lightning have already won a Cup and the Sharks may be on the verge (although it is extremely early in the year).
San Jose is starting a five game road trip (including four through the Eastern Conference) that will also see them make stops in Florida, New York (Rangers), Pittsburgh and Minnesota.
An interesting note for this game is that we'll get to see the #1 overall picks from 1997 and 1998 - Vincent Lecavalier and Joe Thornton. In 98 the Sharks picked Brad Stuart two picks after Lecavalier went to Tampa Bay and Stuart was a key component of the Thornton trade last season. Because they have similar experience and both went in the same draft position, it makes for an interesting comparison:
Joe Thornton: 601 GP, 189 G, 559 PTS. Playoffs: 46 GP, 8 G, 27 PTS
Vincent Lecavalier: 556 GP, 185 G, 410 PTS. Playoffs: 39 GP, 13 G, 26 PTS
Thornton has put up better point numbers while Lecavalier has had better success in the playoffs (and has won a Cup). Last season the big deal was Thornton to Boston and I wouldn't be shocked if Lecavalier was one of the big names to move this year - Tampa simply has too much salary tied up in three assets and in my opinion Vinny's contract is the most tradable at the moment.
Tampa has gotten much better goaltending this year thanks to an offseason trade for the underrated Marc Denis. San Jose has gone with a the Toskala-Nabokov rotation and tonight is Nabby's turn. He has won just two of five but both games were shutouts. Toskala had won his first five before losing the other night in Nashville.
One final note is that rookie D-man Matt Carle has been playing great hockey so far. If you haven't heard of him yet, you will.
The Lightning are playing decent .500 hockey while the Sharks have been very good but not amazing - not on the level of Anaheim, Minnesota and Dallas thus far. I expect them to assert themselves on this road trip to remind the league that they are the team to beat in the West, largely in part to their depth down the middle and in goal. I'm going with San Jose tonight - Tampa is too unpredicatable and Nabokov is going to need a good performance to keep his spot in the rotation.