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Flames welcome Sharks to start playoff quest

by Tal Pinchevsky

SHARKS (0-0-0) at FLAMES (0-0-0)


Season series: This is the first of three meetings this season between teams that ended last season fighting tooth-and-nail for a Stanley Cup Playoff spot. The Sharks finished seventh in the Western Conference with 96 points and the Flames missed the postseason with a 90-point, ninth-place finish. Calgary won the season series with a 2-1-1 record against San Jose.

Big story: This season-opener features two veteran-heavy clubs looking to take a big step forward. San Jose was ousted by St. Louis in the opening round of last year's playoffs while the Flames haven't won a postseason series since 2004.

Team Scope:

Sharks: While the Sharks made the postseason for the eighth straight year, their first-round exit was a major step back following back-to-back trips to the Western Conference Finals. Despite the disappointment, general manager Doug Wilson decided to keep his team intact.

The most prominent addition the Sharks made was actually behind their bench, as former Devils assistant and Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson joined the staff. His primary task will be improving a penalty kill that ranked 29th last season. The offensive end shouldn't be a problem for the Sharks, who last season ranked second in shots, faceoffs and power-play percentage.

Flames: A 3-4-4 streak to end last season ended the Flames' postseason hopes and handed Calgary its third straight year missing the playoffs. That futility inspired general manager Jay Feaster to make wholesale changes, starting with hiring Bob Hartley to replace Brent Sutter as coach.

Changes weren't isolated to the Flames' bench. A number of free agents, most notably center Olli Jokinen, weren't re-signed, and Feaster made a splash in free agency by signing defenseman Dennis Wideman and forwards Roman Cervenka and Jiri Hudler.

Despite being one of the League's oldest clubs, the team will get a youthful infusion from 2011 first-round pick Sven Baertschi, who scored three goals in five games with Calgary last season.

As usual, the defense will be anchored by veteran goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, but the offense will need some help after ranking 24th in goals and 26th in shots last season. They'll also need to improve on last season's 5-16 record in overtime and shootouts, which could be a major liability in the shortened season.

Injury report: For the Sharks, Brent Burns is questionable following hernia surgery. Justin Braun (hand) and Jason Demers (wrist) are out. … The Flames could be missing new additions Cervenka and Hudler. Cervenka is out with a blood clot, and Hudler was nursing an abdominal injury before returning to the Czech Republic to attend his father's funeral. Anton Babchuk (shoulder) is out; Jarome Iginla (groin) is expected to play.

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