GAME: San Jose Sharks (18-16-5) at Boston Bruins (16-19-6).
TIME: Tuesday, 7 p.m. EST.
Joe Thornton has thrived since being traded from the Boston Bruins to the San Jose Sharks. Now the Bruins' former No. 1 overall draft pick makes his return to Boston and looks to keep his team rolling as the Sharks visit TD Banknorth Garden.
The cornerstone of the Bruins for eight seasons after being selected No. 1 in the 1997 draft, Thornton signed a three-year, $20 million deal before the season. The five-time 20-goal scorer then got off to a solid start, recording nine goals and 24 assists in 23 games.
The Bruins, though, lost eight of nine between Nov. 10-29, prompting general manager Mike O'Connell to make a major change.
Thornton was dealt to San Jose on Nov. 30 for left wing Marco Sturm, defenseman Brad Stuart and center Wayne Primeau.
The big center admitted to being "blindsided" by the deal, and was less than complimentary of O'Connell and coach Mike Sullivan, but has had little trouble adjusting to the West Coast. Thornton had two assists in his San Jose debut Dec. 2 in a 5-0 win over Buffalo, a victory that ended the Sharks' 10-game winless streak and started an eight-game point streak for Thornton.
San Jose won its first six games with Thornton and went 7-1 during his point streak.
The Sharks' fortunes have been directly tied to Thornton's. He managed just three assists while San Jose went 0-3-1 in the following four games, but the Sharks have rebounded to win their last three contests. Thornton has three goals and five assists during the win streak, giving him six goals and 20 assists in 15 games with San Jose.
With a matchup against his former team looming, coach Ron Wilson wants to keep his star focused on the task at hand. Thornton brings a five-game point streak into Tuesday's matchup.
"Joe's just got to stay positive," Wilson said of returning to Boston. "I'm sure they'll try to turn it into some soap opera, which it isn't. ... It'll be hard for Joe, I'm sure. I'm interested to see the fan reaction, that's for sure. Joe's going to have conflicted emotions, and hopefully we'll play well around him."
San Jose is 10-4-1 since Thornton's arrival but remains in last place in the Pacific Division.
As well as Thornton has played for the Sharks, O'Connell's acquisitions from the trade have also been producing of late.
Sturm has seven goals, including the game-winner in his debut, and six assists in 15 games with Boston. Stuart has a goal and four assists in his last five games, and Primeau has a goal and two assists his last three.
Boston is 8-4-1 since the deal, but is also in last place. The Bruins, 7-0-3 at home against San Jose, will be trying Tuesday for their first three-game winning streak since Thornton's departure.
Milan Jurcina scored his first two NHL goals and Patrice Bergeron added the go-ahead score late in the second period as the Bruins defeated Tampa Bay 6-3 on Saturday.
Boston may play Tuesday without goaltender Andrew Raycroft, who tweaked his knee late in Saturday's contest. With Hannu Toivonen nursing an ankle injury, fellow rookie Jordan Sigalet may get the start.
STANDINGS (through Jan. 9): Sharks - 41 points, 5th place, 17 PB, Pacific Division. Bruins - 38 points, 5th place, 21 PB, Northeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Sharks - Jonathan Cheechoo, 23 goals; Thornton, 44 assists and 59 points; Mark Smith, 55 PIM. Bruins - Sergei Samsonov, 15 goals; Patrice Bergeron, 19 assists and 31 points; Hal Gill, 60 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Jan. 9): Sharks - Power play: 17 percent (40 for 235), tied for 17th in NHL. Penalty killing: 80.4 percent (156 for 194), tied for 24th. Bruins - Power play: 16.4 percent (37 for 226), 21st. Penalty killing: 84 percent (210 for 250), 10th.
GOALTENDERS: Sharks - Evgeni Nabokov (9-11-5, 3.02 GAA); Vesa Toskala (4-4-0, 3.82). Bruins - Sigalet (0-0-0, 0.00); Raycroft (7-14-2, 3.42).
2003-04 SEASON SERIES: 0-0-1.
LAST MEETING: Nov. 6, 2003; 5-5 tie. At Boston, Mike Knuble finished with a goal and two assists and Samsonov scored with 13.4 seconds to play in regulation to forge the draw. Scott Thornton scored twice for the Sharks.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Sharks - 6-12-2 on the road; Bruins - 8-7-2 at home.