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Coyotes and Sharks ready for new season

by Matthew Mankiewich

COYOTES (0-0-0) at SHARKS (0-0-0)


Season Series: It's opening night for both teams and the first of six meetings between the Pacific Division rivals, the teams ended last season with a home-and-home on April 8-9. The front end in Glendale was a big one for the Coyotes. Not only did they snap an eight-game winless streak against the Sharks, the 4-3 win clinched a playoff spot for the second consecutive year. The Sharks bounced back the following night in San Jose with a 3-1 win.

Team Scope:

Coyotes: The tweaking goes on in Glendale as the Coyotes try to regain the magic of 2009-10, when they set franchise records for wins and points, made the playoffs with ease and pushed the Red Wings to the brink in a seven-game first-round series. Last season they made the cut by only two points and were swept by the Wings in four games.

It's a different look six months later, with goalie Ilya Bryzgalov shipped off to deep-pocketed Philadelphia and other veterans such as center Vernon Fiddler and defenseman Ed Jovanovski following the money as well.

Some of the money saved went to locking up top defenseman Keith Yandle, signing him to a five-year, $26.25 million deal. Scoring will come by committee as it did last season, when 10 players scored at least 11 goals. New faces Raffi Torres and Daymond Langkow -- who's ready to go after missing all but four games last season with a neck injury -- are expected to help.

Goaltending is the biggest question mark. With Bryzgalov gone, Mike Smith will get his chance as the starter with Jason LaBarbera backing him up. "Obviously, our goaltending has to be good for us to do well this year, but (I'm) very confident with the depth in goaltending," general manager Don Maloney said.

Sharks: The journey to the Stanley Cup starts with a single step, and given how the Sharks left the gate last year, that step had better be on the right foot.

"You know, 12th place in the conference in mid-January, with this hockey team, that's beyond being unacceptable," GM Doug Wilson told over the summer. "I think last year, our last 27 games, it was almost a record (winning) pace. I think we drained our tank."

That pace continued all the way to the Western Conference Final, where they lost to the Vancouver Canucks in five games.

It will be a different team without the offense of Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley, but the Sharks believe the improvements made in defense over the offseason will more than compensate.

"I do believe we do have plenty of firepower up front, but you're going to win, I think, by playing good defense," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said to "We stressed that in the second half of the year and it kind of turned around our season. Yeah, we lost some firepower, but we gained some good players on the back end with Burns and Vandermeer and Colin White. They can play a lot of minutes, and hard minutes."

Who's hot; Coyotes newcomer Patrick O'Sullivan led both lineups with seven points in six preseason games.

Injury report: Martin Havlat (offseason shoulder surgery), acquired from the Minnesota Wild in July, will not skate his first shift as a Shark just yet, as Wilson wants to make sure he is 100 percent ready first. Starting goaltender Antti Niemi skated on Thursday but watch Thomas Greiss play in the opener as he continues to recover from pre-camp surgery to remove a cyst from his leg. Backup Antero Niittymaki will miss at least another two months after abdominal surgery. … The Coyotes skate into Saturday with a clean bill of health.

Stat pack: Four Sharks scored four goals in the six-game series last season, while no Coyote had more than two. … One major focus for both teams was improvement on the penalty kill. San Jose was 24th in the NHL last season; Phoenix was 26th. … San Jose's power play was second at 23.5 percent.

Puck drop: "We know it's going to be a dogfight to get to the playoffs in the Western Conference. It's going to be a challenge… we're going to have to continue to play well as a team. Consistency is always a big factor in that." -- Coach Dave Tippett on the Coyotes' website, setting the scene for the new season

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