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Sharks, Blue Jackets start season in Stockholm

by Dave Lozo
SHARKS (0-0-0) vs. BLUE JACKETS (0-0-0)


Season series --
This is the 2010-11 opener for both teams. Last season, the Sharks won three of four against the Blue Jackets. San Jose went 3-4-0 during the preseason while the Jackets went 5-4-0.

Big story --
Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason and Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi are both looking to prove themselves despite having completely opposite 2009-10 seasons. After winning the Calder Trophy in 2008-09, Mason was dreadful during his sophomore season. His goals-against average (3.06) and save percentage (.901) were the worst among goaltenders making least 50 starts.

Meanwhile, Niemi is coming off a Stanley Cup season with the Chicago Blackhawks, who decided to walk away from an arbitrator's award of a one year, $2.75 million contract. The free agent signed for less money with the Sharks and wants to show his rookie season wasn't just a fluke.

Team Scope:

Sharks --
After a disappointing sweep at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals, the Sharks are ready to get that taste out of their mouths when they start their season against the Blue Jackets.

Gone is goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, replaced with the duo of Niemi and Niittymaki. Defenseman and captain Rob Blake retired and center Manny Malhotra signed with the Vancouver Canucks this summer.

The Sharks are simply ready to put everything behind them and get the season going.

"The start of a new season, everyone gets excited for that," Patrick Marleau said. "Everyone wants to get off to a good start."

Blue Jackets --
A trip to the playoffs two seasons ago made it seem like the Jackets were a team on the rise. But last year's 27th-place finish in the 30-team NHL led to the firing of coach Ken Hitchcock midseason and the hiring of Scott Arniel during the offseason.

There weren't many changes made to the roster, which means the team is counting heavily on Mason to rediscover the form that made him the NHL's top rookie in 2008-09. They showed faith in the 21-year-old by signing him to a two-year deal this summer.

Perhaps a first-time coach can give the Jackets a shot of life that was lacking last season.

"I'm excited like a kid," Arniel said. "First I get to coach my first NHL game in Europe, and we'll be back, our first home game is against the Blackhawks."
The Jackets will act as the home team for Friday's game.

Injury report -- Only Jackets defenseman Kris Russell has an injury-related question mark hanging over his head. He practiced Thursday after tweaking his knee against Malmo on Tuesday. His status will likely be determined at Friday's morning skate.

Stat pack --
Sharks star Dany Heatley led the team in scoring during the preseason with 4 goals and 2 assists in four games. … Kristian Huselius led the way for the Jackets during the exhibition season with 1 goal and 6 assists in four games.

Puck drop -- Most players and coaches say that starting the season overseas is a blessing and a curse. It's great to get the players together away from distractions and have them grow closer, but the heavy travel can cause wear and tear. But one thing is for certain -- during the past two seasons, the eventual Stanley Cup champion opened the season in Europe. The Penguins opened in Stockholm in 2008 and the Blackhawks played in Prague in 2009.

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