CALGARY More than three months later than expected and one day after most other NHL teams, the Sharks open their abbreviated season today against the Calgary Flames. It's the first of two Alberta games that might be considered total immersion therapy.
"You know it's going to be sold out, you know it's going to be loud, you know the whole cities of Calgary and Edmonton are going to be all hockey at this point," forward Logan Couture said.
What no one can know, of course, is how ready the Sharks or any of the 30 teams are for games that matter after a 119-day lockout and only a week of practice.
With defenseman Brad Stuart and forward Adam Burish the only two new faces from outside the organization, San Jose coach Todd McLellan has emphasized the advantage of familiarity when it comes to lines, defensive pairings and other than a revamped penalty kill systems.
The first two teams the Sharks are up against are not in the same situation since both have new coaches.
The Flames replaced Brent Sutter with veteran Bob Hartley, back in the NHL for the first time since being fired by the Atlanta Flames in 2007. The Edmonton Oilers, whom the Sharks play Tuesday night, decided that assistant coach Ralph Krueger could do a better job of leading their young talent than his former boss, Tom Renney.
But McLellan wasn't ready to claim his team's continuity would give it an advantage.
"Both of those coaches are talented people," he said. "They'll have their teams prepared and they'll be very hungry, playing at home, opening up in front of your own fans you'll be licking your chops and ready to get going."
The one certainty surrounding the opener is that players were eager to get started.
"I'm really excited," Couture said before leaving San Jose. "It's been a long week of practice but a good week, and I think as a team we're ready to go."
Blackhawks 5, Kings 2 in Los Angeles Chicago raised its own Stanley Cup championship banner just two seasons ago, so its core players already know it's tough to go back to work after a pregame party.
When the Kings were finished raising their banner and receiving their rings Saturday, the Blackhawks reminded the champs that what happened last year won't help Los Angeles this season.
Marian Hossa had two goals and an assist, Corey Crawford made 19 saves, and Chicago crashed the Kings' Stanley Cup celebration with a 5-2 victory.
Captain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane each had a goal and an assist for the Blackhawks, who jumped to a 3-0 lead on Michael Frolik's goal less than 15 minutes in.
With superior speed and skill, Chicago ruined the festivities shortly after the Kings hung their first championship banner in the Staples Center rafters.