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Mike Smith and the Flames amped up for home-opener Saturday against Jets

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

A sense of occasion. A surge of let's-get-it-started adrenalin. Dolby-stereo-level din. Spotlights. Smoke. Introductions. Pizzazz.

So many out-of-the-ordinary goings-on in and around these home-openers.

"It's about managing your emotion-level, right?" reasoned Flames' head coach Glen Gulutzan ahead of Saturday's seasonal Scotiabank Saddledome debut versus the Winnipeg Jets (8 p.m., TV: Sportsnet, Radio: Sportsnet960THEFAN).

"Everyone gets jacked up. When you look at the game we just played, we might've been too jacked up. We didn't come out strong.

"So it's managing your emotions, saving your energy. Don't idle so high during the day so you can come and bring your best at night.

"We're managing the mental side of it now. Physically, we've worked hard. We're ready."

With the bitter aftertaste of a 3-0 seasonal-kickoff loss up in Edmonton Wednesday night still lingering and a two-game California stint - Anaheim, L.A. - in the immediate offing next week, there's already an increased importance on the home-opener.

The Jets obviously feel much the same about the game, trimmed 7-2 by the Toronto Maple Leafs in their first start of the campaign, right at home in Bell MTS Place.

The Flames will be out to reverse a trend that has seen them lose six home openers in succession, their last W dating back to Oct. 10, 2010, and a 3-1 dismissal of the L.A. Kings.

Calgary's hands-down best player up north, 42-save puck-repeller Mike Smith, is rarin' to get back between the pipes, help get his new ship righted and headed out to open sea.

"It's an exciting time,'' he said following practice Friday. "Hockey's back. It'll be fun to play in front of this crowd tomorrow night.

"They didn't have a very good start, either. I think there'll be two teams that are … I guess you can use the world 'desperate' in Game 2.

"It's our home-opener. We'll be ready to go. They didn't come out with a very good start in their building so it'll be a good physical game.

"They're a big club that likes to get to the net. I'm sure our group will be prepared for it.

"Everyone's excited in here. Hopefully we come up with a little better effort."

That effort, stresses skipper Mark Giordano, has to be channeled in the proper way.

 "We've just got to play with more confidence, more urgency. For whatever reason, we just sat back way too much last game. 

"We were way too tentative.

"You want to come out and dictate. Especially at home. That's what Edmonton did.

"That's our key, especially the first few shifts - get pucks in their zone and generate. We were in a bit of the wait-and-see mode the last game.

"Our goalie was great, held us in the game, but we've got to take matters into our own hands."

Wednesday, there was Connor McDavid and his Starship Enterprise warp-speed overdrive to contend with. Things don't get markedly easier Saturday with the arrival of Jets' teenage marksman Patrik Laine.

In case his target-shooting prowess had been forgotten over the summer, Laine unleashed a couple of unstoppable bee-bees here during Calgary's 3-2 SO pre-season victory.

When asked Friday if he'd seen anyone shoot the puck better than the 19-year-old Finnish phenom, Smith smiled in response.

"Brett Hull?'' he said. "That's a pretty good comparison.

"But obviously (Laine)'s a world-class player. He's their most dangerous weapon but there's a lot of good players on that team you've got to watch out for.

"It's gonna be another good test for our team."

Giordano's thoughts exactly.

"He can score from anywhere in our zone. Their whole team is stacked from top to bottom. They play really quick so we've gotta be prepared."

There's no doubt the Flames can expect a raucous welcome to kick-start their 2017-18 home campaign.

The Oilers used their crowd at Rogers Place as rocket fuel to propel them off the launching pad in style.

Gulutzan's group will be looking to do the same 72 hours later.

"It'll be fun,'' promised Giordano. "Another big game. Another team in our conference.

"We've got to put that last one behind us. That wasn't us, wasn't what we're about.

"Another home opener at the 'Dome here, where we know the atmosphere will be great."


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