Sharks-Coyotes: matchups to watch

October 8, 2011, 7:01 pm
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What to watch for as the Sharks open the season at home tonight against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Control the jitters: The Shark Tank will undoubtedly be rocking tonight as the Sharks open their 20th season with Cup aspirations on their minds. The players themselves will have to make sure they dont get caught up in the atmosphere too much, and instead concentrate on their individual respective duties.

Many coaches will tell you they like to start on the road because there is less pressure out of the gate. The Sharks wont have that luxury, but Todd McLellan said after the morning skate that he actually hopes his players have some butterflies.

Players in this league get excited about playing on opening night, but they also get a little bit anxious and nervous, regardless of how many years youve played in the league, he said. I hope that we have that a little bit and our stomachs are turning, and that were able to react appropriately to it.

Patrick Marleau added the team has to not get outside of ourselves or too excited, even though its opening night. We want to use that energy in the right direction.

PREVIEW: Sharks vs. Phoenix
New netminder for Phoenix: The Coyotes lost their best player in the offseason as goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov signed a long-term deal with Philadelphia. Therefore, journeymen Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera are the pair for Phoenix, with Smith getting the start tonight.

It seems no one ever expects the Coyotes to be too much of a threat in preseason prognostications, and then they go out and prove everyone wrong by making the playoffs. If thats going to happen this year, the goaltending will have to play at least close to the level of Bryzgalov to give them a chance.

McLellan coached Smith when both were with the Houston Aeros (AHL) in 2004-05, and said Smith will be a good fit for their defense-first style.

Smith sets up real well with the way they play with their trap and forcing teams to give up possession, said McLellan. He can play the puck very well and initiate the breakouts going the other way. He may make their team even better.

Speaking of goalies: As everyone knows by now, Thomas Greiss will be starting in net for the Sharks as Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki are on the shelf. Greiss had a fantastic preseason, but lets face it -- that brand of hockey doesnt much resemble a regular season game. Griess will have more pressure on his shoulders than anyone else in the building, and knows that tonight is the start of a great opportunity to prove himself as a viable NHL goaltender. The first period especially will be key for him.

It already sounds like he has the full confidence of his teammates.

In practice he stops everything, Dan Boyle said. He works hard, and guys want to play for him. Especially with the season he had last year, it was a tough year for him, so we want to come out and give him a good effort.

Odds and ends: Harri Sateri will be the backup goaltender to Greiss tonight. The lines were as expected in practice, with Tommy Wingels skating with Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe, in place of the injured Martin Havlat Jim Vandermeer stayed on the ice late, therefore, is likely to be the healthy scratch. Congrats to Sharks radio man Dan Rusanowsky, who will be calling his 1500th game tonight.