TAMPA – What’s 847 days between friends?
That’s how long it has been since the San Jose Sharks visited Tampa Bay, and no team in the NHL has currently gone longer. But that number resets after Thursday night when the Sharks face the Lightning at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
As if to make up for lost time, San Jose arrived in Tampa on Monday and has had several days to adjust to the weather, and although the Sharks are in game two of a season-long eight-game road trip, the outlook looks much stormier for Tampa Bay.
“Let’s say it like it is: last year and this year we looked like pee-wees against them,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said.
The Sharks defeated the Lightning earlier this season in San Jose 7-2.
“They have been very good on the power play so we have to stay out of the box for sure,” Boucher said. “We’ve got to keep it tight; obviously, if it’s one goal, it’s one goal, but we don’t want to catch up on two or three goals against these guys, that’s for sure. That would be very difficult.”
The Lightning are preparing to play without defenseman Pavel Kubina, who is being kept off the ice pending the completion of a trade, general manager Steve Yzerman announced Thursday.
“Every day is tough; days like this are tougher,” Boucher said. “Obviously, Kubina is a good man, a good person, and he’s played hard for us.
“People talk about a business but for me it’s never about a business, it’s about winning and players on the ice and building players off the ice. (Kubina) has done a good job with us. I don’t know who or what as to where he’s going but I do feel for him because I do care about our players. But at the same time, if he does go to a Stanley Cup contender, I think it’s a good opportunity for him. But I have no clue – none – as to decisions and directions. That’s all that I have to say on the record for that.”
Tampa Bay is fighting for its playoff lives, but the decision to move Kubina could signal the opening salvo in a wholesale sell-off as the team re-tools for the future.
Yzerman said that is not necessarily the case.
“This doesn’t make it official that, ‘Hey, the sale is on,’ by any means,” Yzerman said. “We’re not just going to give people away, but if there are deals that make sense that whatever we are bringing in in return make us a better organization, we’re going to do that, but we won’t just unload guys for the sake of unloading.
“We’re making our decisions on a player-by-player basis, or an opportunity-by-opportunity basis and we see potential opportunity to improve our club. The broader strategy is that we want to be a better team in the future and we’ll look at any opportunity that will make us a better team in the future. That is our strategy. We want to be a Cup contender at some point and we’re going to have to do some things to become that.”
The Lightning face a legitimate Cup contender in the Sharks, currently in third place in the Western Conference, although they are facing a difficult stretch in their schedule which will see the team on the road for 12 of their next 16 games.
“It’s only getter tougher,” Dan Boyle said. “But, we are where we want to be right now.”
Here are the projected lineups for the Sharks and Lightning:
Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton -Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Tommy Wingels
Jamie McGinn - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell
Brad Winchester - Andrew Desjardins - John McCarthy
Dan Boyle - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Douglas Murray - Brent Burns
Colin White - Justin Braun
Ryan Malone - Vincent Lecavalier - Martin St. Louis
Steve Downie - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Tom Pyatt - Dominic Moore - Brett Connolly
Adam Hall - Nate Thompson - JT Wyman
Eric Brewer - Victor Hedman
Brett Clark - Matt Gilroy
Brendan Mikkelson - Bruno Gervais