Atlanta Thrashers (1-0-0) at Tampa Bay Lightning (0-0-0), 7:30 p.m. On TV at SunSports
One of the busier teams this past offseason, the Tampa Bay Lightning will unleash their new weapons tonight when they play their season opener at St. Pete Times Forum against the Atlanta Thrashers, who will be without goaltender Ondrej Pavelec after a scary incident in last night's opener.
Already an up-and-coming team thanks to a solid nucleus in Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, the Lightning addressed all three phases of their club this offseason. Set to make their Tampa Bay debuts tonight are both forward Simon Gagne and defenseman Brett Clark, while blueliner Pavel Kubina begins his second tour of duty with the club.
Acquired in a trade with the Flyers, Gagne has missed 84 games over the last three seasons, including 24 last year due to a right groin ailment, but he still managed 17 goals and 40 points during the regular season.
Kubina, meanwhile, picked a good time to return to the Lightning, who had an Eastern Conference-low 71 points in 2007-08 before dipping to just 66 points the following season. However, Tampa Bay enjoyed a 14-point increase a season ago and missed a playoff spot by just eight points.
Stamkos has been a big reason for the Lightning's improvement as he matched the Penguins' Sidney Crosby for the most goals last year with 51 while also leading the league with 24 power-play tallies.
New general manager Steve Yzerman and Guy Boucher, the league's youngest head coach, spent a lot of time molding this team over the summer and hope that aggressiveness carries onto the ice.
"I think we're all over the puck. We're extremely busy, we play in-their-face hockey," said Lecavalier. "We don't stop skating on the ice; there's no gliding, there's no waiting and see what the other guys going to do. We're surrounding the puck and attacking the net."
The Lightning also brought in forward Dominic Moore and goaltender Dan Ellis during the offseason, but Moore's status for tonight is questionable due to a groin injury, while Ellis will serve as the backup to incumbent Mike Smith in net.
Smith went 13-18-7 with a 3.09 goals-against average in 42 games last year and is 3-4-0 with a 2.86 GAA in seven career starts versus the Thrashers.
The Lightning have won five straight over the Thrashers and won all three contests at home in last year's season series. Stamkos totaled four goals and nine points in six games versus Atlanta last year.
The Thrashers come into this game having won their season and home opener, 4-2, last night, but lost Pavelec less than three minutes into the game after the netminder collapsed on the ice prior to a faceoff at the other end of the rink.
Pavelec laid motionless while be attended to and was carted off the ice before being taken to a local hospital, where he regained consciousness. Preliminary tests on Pavelec were negative and he was to be kept overnight for observation.
Chris Mason replaced Pavelec in net and allowed a goal shortly after, but settled down to make 29 saves.
"It was tough, I had a lot of trouble focusing," said Mason. "I couldn't stop thinking about [Pavelec] and when we came in after the first we asked about him and they told us he was responsive and okay. That kind of eased it, but it was still awful."
Evander Kane netted a pair of goals, one on a penalty shot, and newcomers Andrew Ladd and Fredrik Modin also scored to help Atlanta win Craig Ramsay's coaching debut with the club.
Atlanta will play its next four games on the road and are likely to recall a goaltender from the minors to serve as Mason's backup for the near future.