Thursday night's NHL schedule includes two games that feature four of the NHL's best teams, yet neither of them are on national television. Once again, great job, Gary Bettman. Nonetheless, if you have NHL Center Ice or live in the markets for these games, do not miss them, as they both should be great.
Montreal (6-1-1) at Minnesota (6-1-1), 8 PM - These teams have identical records, but have come to this point facing very different expectations. Montreal was expected to be a Stanley Cup contender, and so far the Habs look like one. They have been scoring as much as expected, while playing great defense. Carey Price is doing a very good job in net, seemingly fully recovered from his meltdown in last year's second round against the Flyers. Les Habitants are right where they want to be, and should be for most of this season.
Meanwhile, Minnesota was expected to have a down year after losing Pavol Demitra and having to deal with the Marian Gaborik situation. The Gaborik mess still looms large, but the Wild have worked around it, winning even without him in the lineup. A major reason for this is the significant offensive contributions of Mikko Koivu (12 assists) and Antti Miettinen (6 goals), as well as outstanding goaltending from Niklas Backstrom. It's tough to say if the Wild can keep this pace up; a big win against a team like the Habs will show us how good they really are.
Detroit (7-1-2) at San Jose (8-2-0) - This is a battle of two teams who could very well meet again in the Western Conference Finals in May. Detroit is as good as we all expected them to be, going 7-0-2 since that fluky opening night loss to the Maple Leafs. The Red Wings are led by free agent acquisition Marian Hossa, who leads the team in scoring. Of course, the usual suspects like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Brian Rafalski, and Nicklas Lidstrom are playing well. Chris Osgood is winning, but not even doing that well yet. Just imagine how good the Wings could be if he rounds back into last season's All-Star form.
Going over to the Sharks now, this will be head coach Todd McLellan's first game against the team he used to be an assistant for. McLellan has the Sharks winning almost any kind of game, be it a tight defensive battle or a score-fest. San Jose is 8-2-0, yet a lot of their top forwards are not producing as much as expected; their leading scorers with 9 points each are defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Dan Boyle. The reason for that is very balanced scoring, as 11 players already have at least five points. Can they get it done against the mighty Red Wings? We shall see.
There are your big games for Thursday evening. If you live in one of these markets, be sure to watch; if not, well, Bettman can't be the commish forever. Enjoy!