CALGARY, Alberta -- Now the Sharks finally get to hit somebody wearing another NHL jersey.
More than three months later than expected and one day after most other NHL teams, San Jose opens its abbreviated NHL season Sunday against the Calgary Flames. It's the first of two Alberta games that might be considered total immersion therapy.
"You know it's going to be sold out, you know it's going to be loud, you know the whole cities of Calgary and Edmonton are going to be all hockey at this point," forward Logan Couture said.
What no one can know, of course, is how ready the Sharks -- or any of the 30 teams -- are for games that matter after a 119-day lockout and only a week of practice.
With defenseman Brad Stuart and forward Adam Burish the only two new faces from outside the organization, Sharks coach Todd McLellan has emphasized the advantage of familiarity when it comes to lines, defense pairings and -- other than a revamped penalty kill -- systems.
The first two teams the Sharks are up against are not in the same situation as both have new head coaches.
The Flames replaced Brent Sutter with veteran Bob Hartley, back in the NHL for the first time since being fired by the Atlanta Flames in 2007. The Edmonton Oilers, whom the Sharks play Tuesday night, decided that assistant coach Ralph Krueger could do a better job of leading their young talent than his former boss, Tom Renney.
But McLellan wasn't ready to claim his team's continuity would give it an advantage.
"Both of those coaches are talented people," he said. "They'll have their teams prepared and they'll be very hungry, playing at home, opening up in front of your own fans -- you'll be licking your chops and ready to get going."
From a player's perspective, facing a team with a new coach is unpredictable.
"That can go two ways," Stuart said. "It can be a lot of energy and have some success right off the bat, or it can take a little while to figure out. You don't really know how it's going to be, so we've just got to be ready for them to be at their best."
Facing a team with a new coach in the season opener after the 119-day lockout and one-week of camp does present a preparation challenge, McLellan noted.
"What's their power play? What's their penalty kill going to look like? Without having exhibition games to pre-scout on, we're going to have to worry about our team," McLellan said. "And that may be a real good thing for us. We have prepared hard this week, we accomplished some of the things we wanted to accomplish."
Calgary continues to rely on captain Jarome Iginla for scoring and former Sharks netminder Miikka Kiprusoff in net. Offseason moves include the reacquisition of forward Michael Cammalleri and the signing of Jiri Hudler, the longtime Detroit Red Wing.
The one certainty surrounding the opener is that players were eager to get started.
"I'm really excited," Couture said before leaving San Jose. "It's been a long week of practice, but a good week and I think as a team we're ready to go. You can feel it now."
With Sharks goalie Antti Niemi getting the start, here are the expected lines and defense pairings for the opener in Calgary:
Patrick Marleau-Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski, Ryane Clowe-Couture-Marty Havlat, TJ Galiardi-Michal Handzus-Tommy Wingels, James Sheppard-Andrew Desjardins-Adam Burish.
Brad Stuart-MarcEdouard Vlasic, Dan Boyle-Matt Irwin, Douglas Murray-Justin Braun.