The San Jose Sharks host the Vancouver Canucks for opening night of the 2013-14 NHL season Thursday, October 3. The photo list depicts how the teams match up, but more important than how is why it matters.
In a season not partially (or fully) lost to another NHL lockout, opening night technically does not mean more than about 1.2 percent of the season standings. Even the home opener is followed by 40 more chances to defend the house.
San Jose is clearly a contender—better than 80 percent of the NHL. On the surface, the first game would not seem to have much significance.
However, Vancouver is re-joining the Pacific Division for the first time in about two decades. The teams have remained rivals in part because of two one-sided Stanley Cup playoff series. The 2013 Western Conference quarterfinals seemed to signal they are headed in different directions.
The Canucks seem to have peaked when they beat the Sharks in 2011, but want to prove they still are contenders. That adds more to this contest, but both teams have a tremendous emotional investment in the 2013-14 NHL season. Core players on both teams are entering the final years of their contract, making it a real possibility that next June is their last chance at a Stanley Cup with their current teams.
The Canucks will be looking to avenge the humiliation of being swept out of the first round. The Sharks may be looking to avenge the spearing of Martin Havlat that apparently ended his ability to play—potentially the difference between making their fourth Western Conference finals and being eliminated in the second round in seven games by the Pacific Division rival Los Angeles Kings.
Finally, both the Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks have already played and lost in regulation. The Kings, Phoenix Coyotes and Calgary Flames all play non-division games Thursday.
It might be brief, but the winner of this game is in first place. It always helps to start out an important season on the right skate.