Sharks-Flames Preview

The Associated Press

(AP) -- - The San Jose Sharks responded to their quickest playoff exit in a run of eight straight postseason appearances with tinkering instead of a roster overhaul.

The Calgary Flames will have to try to win early and often in this lockout-shortened season with coaches they're still getting to know.

After getting knocked out of the playoffs with a five-game loss to St. Louis in the first round following two straight trips to the Western Conference finals, San Jose visits Calgary in the season opener for both teams Sunday night.

"I'd like our players to still have last year in the back of their minds," coach Todd McLellan said. "The memory of what we did well and what we didn't do well. I'd also like them to move forward. Part of that is re-establishing our identity. Who are we and how do we play, how do we want to play."

McLellan wants the Sharks, who went 43-29-10 to earn the No. 7 seed last season, to be a faster team that annoys opponents and supports each other rather than playing as individuals. Those characteristics were lacking at times last year, especially during a midseason slide that almost cost San Jose a playoff berth and then against a Blues team that was quicker to the puck and vastly superior on special teams.

The memory of that series is still fresh nine months later, considering so many of the Sharks went through it. The top nine scorers from last season led by captain Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe are all back. The six defensemen who got the most ice time, led by Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns, and goaltenders Antti Niemi and Thomas Greiss are also back for another run at that elusive Stanley Cup.

"We've had a few more changes before," Pavelski said. "We didn't perform the way we thought we could (last year). It's always disappointing. Hopefully, everyone got their rest and got what they needed to be ready this year."

In fact, only two of the 28 players in training camp were not in the organization last year: Brad Stuart and free agent forward Adam Burish.

"I'm not going to come in and try to do anything special," Burish said. "I'm not going to come and try to save the day here. They don't need that. This team is an elite team in the NHL and has been elite for a long time. I'm excited and I feel fortunate that I will be a part of it."

Bob Hartley is now a part of the Flames franchise, and only forward Alex Tanguay - who played for Hartley in Colorado a decade ago - has more than initial training-camp impressions of Calgary's new head coach. Assistants Jacques Cloutier and Martin Gelinas are also new.

"I know there's going to be some adjustments," captain Jarome Iginla said. "It's a different style as far as where we want to be, where we want our sticks to be, what we're forcing and what we're not. Once you get on the ice, you don't want to be thinking about it. You want to be going.

"I think we spend more time in the video room," he said. "We are cramming more. ... We expect to be good when the puck drops."

Hartley said he and his assistants spent copious amounts of time with the digital versions of the Flames when they couldn't work with the real thing.

"For the entire length of the lockout, we were here all day, every day looking at game tapes," Hartley said. "... Unfortunately time is against us right now, but you can't postpone the schedule. With hard work and passion, lots of times that can cause some great things to happen."

The club opens the season again hoping to find a center for Iginla on the right wing and will ride 36-year-old goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff as far and as much as it can. The 48-game schedule means the Finn will play fewer than 70 regular-season games for the first time in seven seasons.

The Flames, who went 37-29-16 last season to miss the playoffs for the third straight year, need secondary scoring to take the heat off Iginla's line and for 2007 first-round draft pick Mikael Backlund to assert himself more. Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester has played in 588 consecutive games, but the Flames want more offense out of him.

Offseason acquisitions Jiri Hudler and Roman Cervenka and defenseman Dennis Wideman pump some new blood into the lineup. Hudler was a Stanley Cup winner with Detroit in 2008.

The big question hanging over the club is the future of Iginla, the franchise leader in most offensive categories and a Flame for all of his 15 years in the NHL. At 35, he is in the fifth and final year of his contract.

Iginla made it clear prior to the start of training camp he will not talk about his contract status or a possible trade every day of this truncated season, but he may not be able to avoid it if the Flames stagger at the start.

"Whoever becomes the best team the quickest is going to do well," said winger Mike Cammalleri. "Your odds are a lot better to be where you want to be should you have a strong start. However, there's always outliers and we'll take it as it comes. But right now we want to win Game 1."

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