SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The San Jose Sharks played spoilers on their two-game road trip, ruining home openers for the Calgary Flames then Edmonton Oilers.
Consider those games as two red-flag warnings as the Sharks approach their home opener tonight against the Phoenix Coyotes at HP Pavilion. As the Sharks learned first-hand, the emotions and distractions surrounding home openers can make it tough on the home teams.
"I don't think the home teams have done well," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said after his team's morning skate at HP. "We have to be aware of that. Once the ceremonies are over, we have to be focused."
Thornton said he expects the scene at HP tonight to be "pretty crazy" and that the key for the Sharks will be to keep their emotions in check.
San Jose coach Todd McLellan said the fact he has a mature group of players, most of whom have been through plenty of home openers, should help the Sharks cope with an emotional night.
"I'd like to think we'll be prepared," McLellan said.
After last season, the Sharks certainly won't look past Phoenix. The Coyotes won the season series 4-1-1 and captured the Pacific Division crown, ending San Jose's four-year reign.
Phoenix goalie Mike Smith had three shutouts against San Jose last season, but it's likely the Sharks won't have to face him tonight. Smith has a lower-body injury that forced him to leave the Coyotes' 5-1 victory Wednesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets midway through the first period. Backup Jason LaBarbera took over against Columbus and will likely start tonight.
McClellan said Smith's "puck handling skills are so good" it's like facing "three defensemen instead of two." If LaBarbera starts, the Sharks won't have to be as concerned about "puck placement," McClellan added.